Tories risk chain reaction over cuts

29th September 1995 at 01:00
Class sizes are growing while 12,000 teaching jobs have been sacrificed since 1992. Estelle Maxwell and Geraldine Hackett open a three-page report on the growing anger of staff, parents, unions - and Conservative MPs.

Pressure on the Government to find extra money for schools, reduce class sizes and fully fund next year's pay rise for teachers increased this week, with further evidence that cuts in funding are hitting jobs.

At least 12,000 teaching posts are estimated to have been lost in schools in England and Wales over the past three years, according to new figures from the National Employers' Organisations for School Teachers.

The survey of 77 local education authorities released today reveals that a total of 8,101 teachers lost their jobs between between 1992-93 and 1994-95 following the Government's crackdown on local authority spending and its refusal to fund fully the teachers' pay award.

Although the survey does not include the current year, 1995-96, it is the first hard evidence of job losses in the period since the last general election.

Still more jobs are expected to go, with governors' organisations predicting that 4,500 will have been cut by the end of this year bringing the likely toll to around 16,500 in three years.

The local authority associations calculate education needs an extra Pounds 1.3 billion this year to take account of last year's shortfall and increasing pupil numbers, before any allowance is made for the teachers' pay increase. This year's pay round is expected to cost about Pounds 300 million, assuming the pay review body recommends between 2 and 3 per cent.

However, the Treasury is unlikely to agree to substantial extra funds going to schools without insisting on cutbacks in other Department for Education and Employment programmes. The merger of the two departments provides greater flexibility to ministers in switching funds between areas. While the Cabinet may take the view that the Government cannot risk alienating parents by allowing the size of classes to rise further, there may not be the same imperative to protect the expansion of further education or youth training.

Earlier this year, Professor Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson, of Manchester University's centre for education and employment research, in an analysis commissioned by The TES, predicted that job losses for the two-year period to next August would reach 14,000.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has now written to the School Teachers' Review Body pointing out the discrepancy between the "highly disturbing" redundancy figures and the Government's claim that there are not many teacher vacancies.

He said: "The current pupil: teacher ratio alone demands the recruitment of more than 8,000 primary teachers and 12,000 secondary teachers if we are to get back to the best ratios under this Government."

Mr Hart described the situation confronting schools as "dire" and accused the Government of being prepared to stand aside and allow pupil:teacher ratios to worsen. "The Government's attitude to the recruitment and retention of teachers is controlled increasingly by its economic policy and not by the educational needs of this country," he said.

The survey of 77 authorities revealed that county councils registered an 87 per cent increase in redundancies between 1993 and 1995. In 1994-95 383 teachers were made compulsorily redundant, 89 of them by one un-named authority. However, 122 teachers were made compulsorily redundant in the last year in metropolitan districts - 87 in one un-named council.

Latest figures released by the Teachers' Pensions Agency showed the number of premature retirements due to redundancy fell from 3,600 in 1993-94 to 2, 900 in 1994-95 as the education authorities' supply of candidates aged over 50 began to dry up.

At the same time, the number of retirements on the grounds of ill-health rose from 5,700 to 6,075, an increase from 13 per cent to 29 per cent.

The scale of redundancies and early retirements at a time when unions, governors and parents are demanding better pupil:teacher ratios and smaller classes will give them further ammunition.

The clamour for action comes as Tory back-benchers step up pressure on ministers to lift the cap on local authority spending in the run-up to the election. Removal of restrictions on the amount councils can raise from local taxes could help them pay for teachers' wage rises.

James Pawsey, chairman of the Conservative backbench education committee, believes councils should be allowed to spend according to their perception of local need. Only five of the country's 116 education authorities remain under Conservative control, and increases in council tax could be portrayed as high spending by Labour.

However, back-benchers are keen that the Government fully funds this year's pay rise. "We don't want a repeat of the difficulties that we experienced last year," says Mr Pawsey.

Parents, teachers and governors have rarely been so united. More than two out of three parents support industrial action by teachers - short of strikes - in protest at growing class sizes, according to this week's Harris poll for the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The poll of 1,000 parents showed how more than 80 per cent believed large classes were threatening education quality and aggravating discipline problems.

More than one in five parents said they would back strike action by teachers if talks failed. Though more than two-thirds of teachers who responded to the union's survey rejected strike action over class size more than half said their classes would be bigger this year.

The majority of parents questioned backed union calls for a ceiling on class sizes at a time when 86,000 extra primary pupils have entered the education system. Nine out of 10 said primary classes should be no more than 31, one-third wanted the limit set at 20.

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