One in four has to cut school budgets

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, Daniel Rosenthal and Mark Whitehead report.

Only a quarter of county councils have cut school budgets for 1996-97 as authorities once again target other departments and non-statutory services to protect core education funding, a TES survey reveals.

Local authority schools in 10 of the 36 shire counties will face average cuts (allowing for inflation and pupil numbers) of 1.7 per cent. Ten authorities are delivering standstill budgets, and 15 are providing real-terms increases, averaging 1.6 per cent. No figures were received from Bedfordshire.

Schools in Gloucestershire have fared best, with a 3.5 per cent increase in schools budgets. Somerset is imposing the largest cut, taking 3 per cent off last year's schools budget.

The most striking change this last year is in the funding of the teachers' pay award. The TES survey reveals that 86 per cent of the counties (30) are funding the award in full. The comparable figure last year was just one (Hertfordshire). This year only Somerset is refusing to fund the award at all. Northamptonshire is providing about a fifth of the required total, and Derbyshire less than half.

The survey suggests that teachers' jobs are at risk in more authorities than last year. Thirty per cent (11) of councils said they expected the number of teachers to fall, compared to 23 per cent in 1995. Fifty-eight per cent (21) said there would be no net job losses and 11 per cent (four) declined to give a definite answer. In Nottinghamshire 236 full-time equivalent teachers' jobs are at risk.

Other education staff are more likely than teachers to face redundancy, the survey found. Two-thirds of councils said central and support posts would go. About 140 jobs will be lost in Nottinghamshire, up to 100 in Buckinghamshire and Derbyshire expects "fairly significant" redundancies among school meals and special needs support staff.

Virtually all the councils are spending up to their capping limits, with Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire the only ones to break the cap. Eighty-nine per cent (32) have cut other services to protect education. Only Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Somerset have not reduced other departments' budgets.

Half of the councils have cut their overall education budgets, with non-statutory services bearing the brunt. Discretionary awards, music, adultcommunity education and youth services have been hardest hit.

Taking increases as well as reductions into account, spending on discretionary awards in the counties has been cut by an average of 16.7 per cent. But in the 27 councils where a reduction has been made the average figure is 23 per cent. Derbyshire has scrapped its grants budget, Cheshire has more than halved awards funding and a further nine authorities are making reductions of between 27 and 50 per cent.

Cheshire and Cumbria have removed funding for instrumental music lessons and 11 authorities have made music cuts of between 5 and 43 per cent. Only a third said they had kept music funding at 1995-96 levels.

Adultcommunity education fared little better. The worst cuts have been made in Northumberland, where council funding of adult education is to disappear by 1998, and in Cambridgeshire and Cornwall, which are both reducing adult education spending by 40 per cent this year. A further 21 councils made cuts averaging 8.6 per cent.

Derbyshire has removed 60 per cent (Pounds 1m) of its support for statemented children in mainstream schools. Buckinghamshire faced vehement protests after announcing that three of its four environmental study centres would close to achieve a Pounds 120,000 saving.

The full extent of cuts in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire will not be known until John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, rules on their decisions to break the capping limit.

Virtually all of the authorities said the overall picture for schools was better than last year, an impression reinforced by the fact that only one in four reported local campaigns by parents, staff or governors against either the latest cuts or national education funding.

But some spoke out against the financial struggle. Contemplating a 1.9 per cent real-terms cut in his education budget, Chris Tipple, director of education for Northumberland, said: "The situation is just desperate and grinds us down. Horrific as it sounds, the cuts we've made are smaller than in recent years. We've lost 14 per cent in real terms since 1992-93."

With the ink barely dry on this year's budget papers, Shropshire has already begun lobbying for increased funding for next year.

* Local authorities have had to raise council taxes by more than twice the rate of inflation to pass on this year's 4.5 per cent increase in education standard spending assessment, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

CIPFA says that council tax returns from 95 per cent of English authorities show an average rise in band D taxes for 1996-97 of 6.2 per cent, to Pounds 647.68.

The findings, published in the Public Finance journal, suggest that London taxpayers face the largest rise in England, up 7.1 per cent to Pounds 619. 26.

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