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Revolt in heart of middle England

Warwickshire is middle England. Not far from Kineton high are Warwick Castle and the spa towns of Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon, all within the Midlands county's borders.

Labour's 1997 landslide was built on victories in areas such as this. Then, only the birthplace of the Bard stayed true blue. Labour holds four of the five seats, two of which - Rugby and Kenilworth, and Warwick and Leamington - were won in 1997 and are among the Tories' top 40 targets.

But, if Tony Blair visits here proclaiming his record on education funding, he will get short-shrift. The county is a founder member of the F40 group of the worst-funded authorities. Last year, Warwickshire received pound;252 less per pupil than Hertfordshire, the best-funded shire county and pound;2,200 less than the London borough of Lambeth.

County education officer, Eric Wood, estimates that Warwickshire would need an extra pound;10 million a year to bring its funding levels up to those of other education authorities.

He believes that parents and teachers are well aware hat Warwickshire is getting a rough deal. "You could ring any school or governor in the county and they could give you chapter and verse on the inequities of the current funding system," Mr Wood said.

"Warwickshire County Council has put pound;7.5m into education above what the Government expects. The county had to put that money in - to the detriment of other services - to allow the education system to operate as well as it does.

"There is a general view that the South-east is getting the best deal and that rural deprivation ought to be taken into account alongside urban deprivation. We need to look again at the balance between town and country."

As well as dreaming up imaginative schemes such as a "virtual bank" to allow schools to borrow against others' reserves to fund capital projects, the county's politicians have put aside their differences to campaign for a fairer funding deal. Both Education Secretary David Blunkett and his Tory predecessor have received all-party complaints from councillors.

Jon Slater


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