Sacking fears as cash crisis deepens

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Government's extra funds fail to heal damage from last year's funding fiasco

Increases in school budgets from April will not be enough to repair the damage done by the funding crisis, headteachers have warned.

Teaching unions in the London borough of Croydon have been told to expect the loss of up to 160 teaching and support staff, an estimate schools described as conservative. Heads in other authorities including Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Brighton and Hove, Essex, Suffolk and Barnet said they were facing another year of financial difficulties.

Their warnings follow a record number of headteacher vacancies in The TES.

More top jobs were advertised last month than at almost any time in the past seven years - and heads cited the funding crisis as a reason for quitting.

Professor John Howson, director of Education Data Surveys, said: "Heads may think they don't want another year of trying not to sack their teachers."

Many schools with deficit budgets used up their reserves last year and will be forced to cut staff unless they get more money, a scenario ministers want to avoid with a general election looming.

This week David Bell, the chief inspector, raised concerns about teacher recruitment and retention but his annual report did not assess the impact on schools of last year's budget crisis.

David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said that in some areas April's budgets would be like "applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound".

Research from the National Union of Teachers gives further indications that the funding crisis may well continue. Regional officials said schools already in the red have little hope of balancing their books. Support for the most vulnerable children is at risk.

Ministers have allocated an extra pound;1.5 billion for schools from April. They guarantee every school without rising rolls an additional 4 per cent per pupil.

But John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said the Government needed to provide a further pound;1.5 billion for schools over the next two years.

Croydon council has already issued statutory redundancy notices warning that the equivalent of up to 41 posts could be lost among its central education staff. The Labour-run authority has to save pound;4 million in its central budget, while schools will face a pound;3.4m shortfall, even with pound;2.6m extra emergency funding.

Today the NUT began balloting its 1,500 members in the borough for a half-day strike in protest at the redundancies. The union said schools were being encouraged to use the workload deal to make savings and replace teachers with less expensive support staff.

Cambridgeshire council is appealing against Education Secretary Charles Clarke's intervention in its plan to pass on to schools just 71 per cent of the increase expected by ministers.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "This is speculation and scaremongering. Schools are only just beginning to work through their budgets with LEAs." He said the department remained confident it had a sound framework for school funding in the next two years.

News 4; Analysis 19; Leader 22

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