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Tight budget, hard life

WHEN Geoffrey Thompson became head of a Northumberland secondary school last September, he was expecting budgets to be tight - after all the county had sustained five years of cuts to its education budget - but nothing prepared him for the actual paucity of resources.

The Duchess's County high school in Alnwick may have some lovely Georgian buildings and the best view of Alnwick Castle in town, but no child has its own copy of the standard textbook in any subject, and in some maths classes there is one book between eight.

In its last report the Office for Standards in Education said that funding was limiting the school's achievements. Mr Thompson worked out that the school's entire budget was only equal to the science budget of one of his previous schools in south London.

According to Government figures, Northumberland has the highest pupil:teacher ratios at secondary level (19:1) and is in the top ten at primary level with 25:1.

From 1992-93 the authority sustained cuts amounting to Pounds 21 million in real terms, according to Chris Tipple, Northumberland's education director.

The county drama service has been abolished, the music service has to be self-financing and the number of outdoor education centres has been cut from 12 to two.

The latest local authority allocation might allow next year's spending to stay unchanged, says Mr Tipple. But the northern counties have been disappointed that the promised redistribution of council funding - from south to north - did not take place.

He said: "It is a rotten settlement. We got below the average increase of 4.8 per cent for the education SSA and nothing has been done about the injustice of the area cost adjustment or the additional educational needs factors which are skewed towards the South-east."

Northumberland has another problem not allowed for in its funding. Its population is so thinly-spread that it pays out Pounds 5m in travel costs, with some pupils travelling three hours each day.

"Northumberland doesn't have any political clout," said Mr Tipple. "It has no MPs of significance, it is like a neglected, marginal place on the edge of England."

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