Too broke to clean the windows

Estelle Maxwell

Sparks are already flying in the battle over next year's funding for education. Clare Dean and Estelle Maxwell report on what the generals are saying and visit schools where buildings and morale are crumbling in the wake of this year's cuts.

After years of wear and tear, the window frames at Burton Joyce primary school have developed holes big enough to push a pencil through. At some stage the local authority will board them up and life in the classroom will go on.

Years of cuts to the education budget in Nottinghamshire are taking their toll on its schools. Last year the LEA was forced to axe Pounds 11.28 million from education spending and as a direct result more than one-third of its primary schools now have classes with more than 30 pupils.

"We had a class with up to 42 children in Years 5 and 6 last year because of underfunding," explains Diane Proudfoot, headteacher of the village school with 250 pupils. "I would not want to go through a year like that again. The stress it placed on everyone was unbelievable."

The head has found parents extremely supportive, but now they may be asked to raise Pounds 10,000 if the school is unable to get a grant to resurface the playground which is rapidly becoming a health and safety problem, Like other headteachers in the Labour-controlled council she is bracing herself for the worst but has vowed never to increase classes to such an extent again. "I would rather scrap my capitation budget altogether and ask parents to totally support us," she said.

"We have no reserves left. My staff are experienced and older and the budget makes no allowance for this. We have now recruited several newly qualified teachers which has brought down the costs slightly."

Her resolve looks likely to be tested as the financial picture for the forthcoming year appears increasingly bleak. The local branch of FACE (the Fight Against Cuts in Education) is now claiming Nottinghamshire's schools budget will be reduced by Pounds 25 million in the forthcoming year.

Its estimate is shared by the local authority which has just produced a report outlining the effects upon its schools of the 199596 cuts: more than 300 teaching jobs were lost, in some schools class sizes rose to 40, pupil:teacher ratios worsened, and support for specialneeds pupils was under threat.

Fred Riddell, chair of the education committee, said the report which has now been passed on to parents, governors, MPs and Education Secretary Gillian Shephard, provided "hard evidence that the Government is selling children short on education".

He was pessimistic about funding for the forthcoming year: "We could be faced with cuts which are twice as bad and could well be looking at the loss of 700 teaching and 250 non-teaching jobs," he said.

The headteacher of a primary in an inner-city area of Nottingham, said the school had classes of more than 35 children with very testing behaviour and added: "I find this situation totally unacceptable."

Two years ago the school had reserves of Pounds 44,000. Now it is carrying over less than Pounds 2,000 and last year lost a teacher and a classroom assistant.

"We have got to the stage where having paper towels in the toilets is becoming a luxury and we have invested in electric driers because in the long run they are less expensive," said the head, who asked not to be named.

"We have not had the windows cleaned for two years because we cannot afford it and the council tells me that in five years' time, when the frames have finally rotted through, I shall have to board them up. It is absolutely appalling. "

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