Desperately seeking pound;2.5 billion

9th May 2003 at 01:00
'Angry and distressed' heads add to ministers' funding misery as they warn of four-day weeks, huge classes and job cuts. William Stewart reports on the York conference

HEADS piled the pressure on ministers last weekend, warning that the continued schools funding crisis would lead to four-day weeks, huge classes and job cuts.

The National Association of Head Teachers claimed that rising costs and government miscalculations meant schools would see just pound;500 million of the extra pound;3 billion they had been promised by 2006.

Members at the association's annual conference in York also attacked the Government over its accountability regime, with calls for the abolition of league tables and national tests for seven-year-olds.

And after delegates unanimously agreed the teacher workload agreement would be impossible to implement without more funding, David Hart, general secretary, said there was a "distinct risk" the NAHT could withdraw from it altogether.

With Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, watching football in Norwich, junior education minister Stephen Twigg was left facing a barracking from what is traditionally one of the most polite and moderate teacher union conferences.

The Government had begun the weekend by trying to blame local authorities for the funding crisis, releasing figures that it said showed they were sitting on pound;597m for schools.

But within minutes the NAHT had hit back, saying that the figures were a "smoke screen", and an attempt to pass the buck that "simply won't wash".

Sue Sayles, former NAHT president and head of Riccall primary, near Selby, North Yorkshire, said she was facing a deficit of pound;85,000 and would have to lose a teacher, forcing her to teach full-time for the first time in 17 years as a head.

"I have never known colleagues to be so angry, distressed and irate," she said. "When this really hits schools it is going to have to be four day weeks and huge classes because that is the only way we are going to keep schools open."

The NAHT said a survey of funding in more than 700 schools showed 78 per cent did not have the cash to meet costs, which had risen 10 per cent.

Nearly 17 per cent had actually seen a cash reduction.

Mr Twigg told delegates that resolving the funding issue was now the Department for Education's number one priority. But heads shouted "too late" when he said he did not want to see any redundancies as a result of this year's funding changes.

Lesley Hughes, head of Longcroft school in the East Riding of Yorkshire, told the minister her school was getting pound;230,000 less than she had expected and had to cut teaching and non-teaching staff to balance the books.

The conference voted unanimously for England to join the rest of the UK and abolish all school league tables.

Keith Davies, head of Tidbury Green school, Solihull, said: "Why does the Westminster government alone persist in the publication of tables that are narrow, unfair, unreasonable and misleading?"

A call to boycott all national tests was toned down: there will now be a study to see if scrapping them is feasible. But members did vote to scrap key stage 1 tests.

Jenny Simpson, head of Lymington C of E infant school, Hampshire, said: "A system that is prepared to examine six and seven-year-olds to further its own political agenda is sick."

In a debate on the sterile content of the national curriculum, Clarissa Williams, head of Tolworth girls', Kingston upon Thames, told delegates to follow her example and break the law. She said her school had ignored the requirement for every key stage 4 pupil to be taught religious studies and technology since the mid 1990s, in favour of more creative subjects. But she had not ended up in Holloway Prison, and 75 per cent of the secondary modern's pupils achieved five A*-C grade GCSEs.

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