The making of a jumble-sale mentality

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Deputy head Sue Haydon was cutting the tokens off the back of Weetabix packets - 12 more and she would have enough for a free Roald Dahl book. With her annual capitation allowance down to just Pounds 1,000, every little helps.

The claim made by Gillian Shephard, the Education Secretary, that schools have stashed away millions of pounds cuts no ice in Mrs Haydon's Northampton primary.

"I find it absolutely unbelievable that the Government refuses to fund our pay award, that top civil servants are given phenomenal pay rises while the rest of us have to do with low ones because it is a time of recession," she said.

"We are now down to the basic minimum. We have people donating paper, cardboard, boxes of crayons and pencils and we are just not going to be able to teach the national curriculum as it stands."

Mrs Haydon, on point 10 of the pay spine, believes teachers would almost have waived their right to a rise in return for education being properly funded.

Eastfield Lower, where she is deputy, will only avoid job losses this year because eight more children, each worth more than Pounds 1,000, have joined the school.

As it is, headteacher Garry Keal will have to drop plans to increase the number of hours he is able to employ a special-needs teacher. And this in a school where more than half the children need extra help.

Staff salaries (Pounds 243,050) account for 92 per cent of the school's Pounds 265,000 budget. The 2.7 per cent pay award reaps a bizarre reward for Mr Keal who had originally budgeted for 2.9 per cent.

The difference gives him a few hundred pounds to play with. And he will need it. For there is no slack and he expects to have no reserves next year.

The Pounds 10,000 the school had saved up over three years is being spent on security fencing and on an office for its secretary who is currently working in a corner of the school hall.

"Our classes have more than 30 children," said Mr Keal. "I don't think Government ministers have any real idea how difficult it is to teach these children in classes of that size. If I told ministers that half of my children haven't even got toothbrushes they wouldn't believe me, yet some of the kids are so deprived that they are starving by the time they get to school, so we provide them with snacks."

Parents contribute 50p a week towards those snacks - a glass of orange juice and a biscuit - if they can afford it, and it is that money which provides such materials as paints and felt-tips.

"I think this is a terrible pay rise," said Mr Keal. "My mortgage has gone up twice in the past month, petrol has gone up yet our award doesn't even cover the cost of living."

Barbara Loughney, on point six on the pay spine, added: "I must be the luckiest member of staff, because I am single and I don't have any children. I know teachers who are taking on private tuition to supplement their income. " She is more careful about her shopping and pays large bills in instalments by monthly direct debit.

There are very mixed feelings in Northamptonshire about the pay award, for up to 250 teachers could be made redundant as the LEA struggles to cut Pounds 20 million from its own budget.

Northamptonshire has fared less favourably than the average county council in the tough public-spending round. Its standard spending assessment - the Government estimate of what needs to be spent in the county - increased by just 0.3 per cent compared with the national average of 0.6 per cent, despite being one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

An extra 1,200 pupils are expected in schools this autumn and the authority has taken Pounds 3.3 million out of its own reserves to fund the bulge. But it has left itself with just Pounds 4.5 million to fall back on and headteachers warn that the consequences of a serious fire at one of their schools do not bear thinking about.

Stimpson Avenue Lower in Northampton has just celebrated its centenary. It moves towards the millennium with no reserves and is rationing pens and pencils. Plaster on some of the walls is cracking and flaking and the wood in the school hall is badly damaged.

Acting head Iris McBreaty believes primary schools, traditionally underfunded, have been given a double dose of a bad medicine and are now losing out to both grant-maintained and secondary schools.

"I am perfectly willing in austere times to accept what is reasonable but I am not prepared to be devalued.

"As a professional I have worked damned hard and when I hear about these immoral awards to civil servants it leaves me numb. Come back Guy Fawkes all is forgiven."

She said the 350-pupil school now exists on a jumble-sale mentality with parents raising up to Pounds 4,000 annually to keep it going.

"We are being made to feel like scapegoats," said Jill Day, on point 10 of the pay spine. "We know that the governors haven't got any money and we are being made to feel guilty for taking money away from the children."

Newly qualified teacher Mary Johnson will be the casualty of the 199596 cuts. Brought in as maternity cover, her temporary contract will not be renewed and she will have no job come September. (The teacher on maternity leave has taken voluntary redundancy.) "I shall have to go back into the supply pool but I think it is unlikely that I will get any work," said Mrs Johnson.

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