Let experience triumph over your hopes

10th March 1995 at 00:00
Don't believe the "alien" voices: cuts this year will mean many more to come, warns Pat Lacy. For the past six weeks I have had the most ominous feeling of deja vu. I live and teach in Gloucestershire and feel as if my experiences of the past few years are only now affecting people in other counties. Perhaps the following is beginning to sound familiar.

In the late 1980s - and for the first time in living memory - the Conservative party lost overall control of Gloucestershire County Council. Almost immediately the standard spending assessment was cut. This has continued to be cut, year on year.

In 1992 and 1993 the cuts were so severe that there was uproar; parents, governors and teachers wrote letters to councillors and MPs, besieged Shire Hall at budget-setting time, convinced the county council to break "the cap" and went to London in coachloads to lobby MPs.

No Conservative MPs supported the council and instead accused it of waste and mismanagement. The council's appeal against the capping limit was rejected and the cuts went ahead.

The predicted teacher redundancies did not happen. Instead, staff were offered early retirement - and accepted - while many on part-time and temporary contracts lost their jobs. This removed many of the special needs staff, music specialists and nursery nurses. Heads and governors made a mental note to make all new posts temporary, in case of another round of cuts.

To all complaints, the county MPs replied: "Go for grant-maintained status. Gain 100 per cent of the money you are entitled to, manage your own affairs completely and all will be well."

Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Dor- set, Devon and all other Shire counties beware. This seems to be the point you have reached in 1995.

At the last count, 72 per cent of Gloucestershire's secondary pupils were in GM schools. Most of the governing bodies of these schools balloted parents, not for philosophical reasons, but because they desperately wanted more money.

In the Forest of Dean, where I live, parents of secondary age children have no choice and I have just returned from lobbying the county to break the cap for the third time in four years. If one more large school votes for GM status, responsibility for the education service will be removed from the hands of the county council and given to the Funding Agency for Schools, a quango based in York. Then who would we lobby?

With the pressure to make more economies, the council has changed the LMS formula for primary schools. It has reduced the base allocation for each school and placed greater emphasis on the number of pupils the school contains. Soon the smaller village schools will not be able to make ends meet and there will be threats of closure. The county music service has been decimated; the advisory service has become a professional consultancy; the advisers are OFSTED inspectors as well as trying to do their normal work; the number of special needs teachers has fallen and, worst of all, class sizes have risen.

Do not listen to the alien voices that say "put up with cuts this year and we'll do something about it next year" or "Grant-maintained status is the answer" - they won't and it isn't.

If you don't believe me, visit Gloucestershire and see what fate awaits you if you don't stick to your guns this year.

Pat Lacy is a teacher and NUT association secretary in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

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