Angry adieu to years of experience

16th June 1995 at 01:00
Clare Dean and Frances Rafferty open a two-page report on who is in the firing line and where as the Government's squeeze on education spending flings hundreds of experienced teachers out of work. Hundreds of experienced teachers over the age of 50 are accepting early retirement deals - some willingly, others with "arms twisted behind their backs" - as schools and local authorities seek to limit compulsory redundancies and still balance their budgets.

The job losses are a result of the Government's refusal to fund fully the teachers' pay rise and the continued squeeze on spending. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which predicted that 3,000 jobs would go, is now revising its figure upwards following the Government's refusal to lift the spending cap on five local authorities.

Richard Margrave, the ATL's spokesman, said: "These job losses are purely finance driven and teachers who are eligible for early retirement must feel a great deal of pressure to go because they are seen as 'expensive'."

Hilary Pollard, of the ATL's office in Kirklees, said 75 teachers had accepted early retirement. "Early retirement is being used as an alternative to making redundancies because of the cuts. The good news is that teachers are not being thrown out. The bad news is that we won't know until September how many are not being replaced.

"The financial reality is that if a top-of-scale teacher goes, he or she can be replaced by a newly-qualified teacher for almost half the price."

This situation appears to be similar nationwide. LEAs are making money available for enhanced pension deals and are not renewing teachers' short-term contracts. In Shropshire 50 teachers have accepted early retirement and the unions are now battling to prevent a small number of compulsory redundancies.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of Manchester University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, predicted two months ago that 14,000 teachers' jobs could be lost by August 1996.

He said: "Many of these potential losses this year have been retrieved by schools and LEAs finding the money from different pockets. The majority have been covered by a carrot-and-stick approach to early and ill-health retirement.

"Our concern is that schools are not necessarily losing teachers in areas of the curriculum where they can afford to go. A physics teacher may be the right age to retire early, but will the school be able to afford a replacement?" In Bedfordshire, where 112 teachers will lose their jobs, union officials are worried about class sizes. Glenn Williams, regional officer for the National Union of Teachers, believes there could be up to 18 compulsory job losses.

He said: "This week my union voted not to have a one-day strike on class size because it didn't want to upset parents and governors. It is time these parents and governors in the county got active and vocal."

The scale of redundancies emerged as the Government this week refused to lift spending restrictions on five education authorities.

John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, bowed to pressure from senior Tory MPs - including former defence minister Tom King - for the spending cap to be lifted in Somerset and also partly raised it in Barnsley. But he refused to allow Devon, Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Newcastle and Sheffield to spend above the Government-imposed limit. More than 300 jobs will go in just those five authorities.

Orders setting out the final spending caps for the authorities were due to be debated in the House of Commons yesterday.

In Somerset 154 teachers and 69 non-teaching school staff are being made redundant despite the cap being lifted, while in Barnsley 55 education jobs will go, including that of the chief education officer (the authority is merging its education and leisure departments).

The job cuts in Somerset are a mixture of voluntary and compulsory redundancy. The spokesman said: "Some of the people who have come forward for redundancy would not normally have volunteered . . . they are doing it to help their younger colleagues."

Somerset has come up with a Pounds 4 million relief package for its schools - Pounds 2.5m as a result of the lifting of the spending cap and Pounds 1. 4m from re-jigging its budgets. Nevertheless its schools will still be Pounds 4. 25m short, while the authority as a whole is facing cuts of Pounds 18m.

"It is still crisis, but just a different level of crisis," said the spokesman.

The lifting of the cap in Somerset provoked anger in neighouring Devon, where the authority has been prevented from spending another Pounds 4.4m on schools.

"It's quite absurd that they have approved the spending increase for neighbouring Somerset but chose to ignore our equally valid and reasoned arguments," said Brian Greenslade, Liberal Democrat leader and policy committee chairman. "Many local people have been clamouring for education to be safeguarded in this year's budget, but our best attempts to do so have been thwarted by John Gummer's grim determination to put Devon's schools to the sword."

In Gloucestershire, the authority said that it would have ploughed Pounds 3m of the extra Pounds 4m it wanted back into schools, while council leaders in Newcastle and Shropshire were furious at the decision.

Sue Davis, the Labour council leader in Shropshire, said: "This is an injustice." Brian Gillow, leader of the Conservative group, added: "I am deeply disappointed that the campaign to maintain essential services has been rejected. It is an experience I will not forget in a hurry."

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