Forced up against a cash wall

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
A TES survey reveals that authorities of all types are trying to make education a top priority in an attempt to save teachers' jobs. But scores remain under threat. Rifat Malik reports.

A TES survey reveals that authorities of all types are trying to make education a top priority in an attempt to save teachers' jobs. But scores remain under threat. Rifat Malik, Daniel Rosenthal and Mark Whitehead report STORY: Metropolitan councils across the country are being driven to spend up to the Government-imposed limit to protect school budgets.

All but one of the 21 metropolitan councils who responded to a telephone survey by The TES, are spending as much as they are allowed to. And 18 have made education a top priority, inflicting deeper cuts on other services.

In real terms, however, 12 authorities have cut education revenue, five have made increases and four stayed the same. Tameside and Trafford have given schools an extra Pounds 500,000, and Bury increased its its aggregated schools budget - the amount authorities give directly to schools - by 5.5 per cent .

Thirteen authorities are funding the 3.08 per cent cost of the teachers' pay award in full, and eight are part-funding. These contributions range from 1 per cent in Wakefield to 2.5 per cent in Newcastle.

Almost half the 21 authorities warned of job losses, although not all as a direct result of budget cuts.

Kirklees is predicting losses of 60 to 100 teachers, but Richard Askham, group finance manager with the West Yorkshire authority, said this could be mitigated by redeployment. Last year, 99 teachers were found new positions.

Neighbouring Wakefield is also expecting to lose jobs, and is encouraging early retirement as nine schools are to close under a rationalisation programme.

A further third of boroughs said that teacher job losses were likely, but it was too early to be sure of numbers. General job losses in education - as opposed to specific teacher posts - are not expected.

Uncertainty over jobs and funding has led to campaigns and lobbying against cuts running in more than half the councils. These have included school-based petitions, or council-orchestrated funding campaigns such as the one run in North Tyneside, the metropolitan authority with the lowest standard spending assessment (the Government's estimate of what needs to be spent in an authority).

Alan Jarvis, principal finance officer in Bradford, said: "In the last year the council has started campaigning, giving information to governing bodies on the age of schools and their state of disrepair, and has successfully raised the profile of the Government's reduced funding."

Councils such as Sunderland, which has slashed Pounds 1.6 million from its schools budget, are expecting protests from heads and governors.

Primary schools and special education were least affected by cuts, with the axe falling heaviest on secondary budgets. About a third of secondary schools face cuts.

Half of the 18 councils which still have a youth service were making cuts. In some authorities such as Tameside they follow years of stringency. Half were also targeting adult and community education.

The school meals service had been protected in more than three-quarters of the authorities - but at a cost. Sixty-five per cent were increasing prices by between 3 and 10 per cent. Bradford resisted pressure from unions to reduce its meals service. It has a high free meals take-up, and with subsidies, the total expenditure comes to Pounds 7.1m.

The news on discretionary grants, which have also faced severe cuts over the years, is equally bad. Although a third of the authorities said they would not be making cuts, they admitted to having only nominal sums in hand.

Central administration is also facing cuts, with 18 councils making reductions. These ranged from 4.5 per cent in Kirklees to almost 15 per cent in the Wirral.

* Metropolitan authorities this week condemned the Government's Pounds 415m capital spending guidelines for 1996-97.

Graham Lane, education chair of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said: "Thousands of schools up and down the country are in a disgusting state, but we are being denied the resources to tackle existing repairs."

The AMA and the Association of County Councils have undertaken a major study of capital needs in education, which will be published at the beginning of next month.

Of the Pounds 415m the Government will allow authorities to borrow to spend on capital programmes, two-thirds will be taken up with meeting existing commitments.

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