Ministers face cash backlash

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Heads will warn the Government that unless the funding crisis is sorted out there will be trouble. Jon Slater and Clare Dean report

MINISTERS are facing a crisis of confidence caused by funding cuts and the threat of teacher redundancies, heads are expected to warn next week.

As the battle over funding intensifies, a report from the Secondary Heads Association will blame the Government for not providing enough money and some local education authorities for not passing on the right amount to schools.

But today, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, will blame councils for the crisis. He is to publish detailed breakdowns of the budget decisions of at least 90 councils - and ask them to justify them.

Heads will say that the Government's "inflated" promises of record investment have caused deep dissatisfaction in schools. The union says that schools are being forced to explain to parents why they are making cuts despite ministers' pledge of "record investment" in education.

Its research into the funding crisis, which includes survey results from around 100 secondaries, is expected to back government claims that council education budgets are 11.5 per cent higher than last year and that a significant amount has not been passed on.

But the report will argue that a 10.5 per cent rise in costs would have meant an average real terms increase of 1 per cent even if the increase had been passed on in full.

That is well below the minimum 3.2 per cent the Government insisted each authority would get and changes to the way funding is distributed would have left many schools facing cuts, it will say.

However, Mr Clarke told the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference yesterday that information sent by councils to the Department for Education and Skills shows some still have not passed on the correct amount of money to schools.

In three-quarters of councils, the increase in school budgets is lower than the overall increase local authorities have made for school funding.

Mr Clarke will also write to all local authorities asking them to justify the way they have allocated their budgets.

Calls to SHA's helpline have quadrupled in the two months since the crisis, which is threatening the jobs of teachers and assistants in thousands of schools, first became apparent.

"This is a desperately worrying situation for heads. We expect prompt action from both the Government and local authorities to get increased funding into schools," said John Dunford, SHA general secretary.

The Local Government Association estimates that up to pound;500 million is sitting in the DfES waiting to be distributed. Ministers say councils are holding back pound;500m.

Graham Lane, the association's chair of education, said that schools would receive all the money earmarked for them but that LEAs need to retain money to meet changing circumstances such as new pupils and equipment.

An independent study conducted for the National Union of Teachers found that cuts are putting the agreement to cut teachers' workload at risk.

Conservative MPs called for a special debate in Parliament next week on the funding crisis. "What nonsense is this system when it can effectively lose enough money to pay 20,000 teachers," Damian Green, the Tories' education spokesman told the NASUWT conference.

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