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We need pound;73bn, says Hart

Heads have made a bold claim for a hefty slice of public spending over the next three years. Clare Dean and Karen Thornton report from this year's NAHT conference in Torquay

HEADTEACHERS' leader David Hart will today demand that the Government demonstrate its commitment to education by putting at least pound;73 billion into the service over the next three years.

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers says if ministers want schools to improve further, they must give them the cash to do so. He is warning the Treasury not to shortchange education in public spending plans for the next three years, to be announced next month.

He is speaking out after heads warned of financial meltdown in schools across the country.

A survey of nearly 1,400 heads has revealed a cash crisis across England. Almost half of those surveyed warned that they would have to cut jobs - a total of 323 teachers and 313 support staff.

The survey also revealed that only 7 per cent of heads would have more money to spend this year after taking rising costs into account. In the vast majority of primary, secondary and special schools, staffing costs swallow up more than 80 per cent of budgets. Many schools are only able to keep staff by using standards fund money - provided directly by central government - and the Chancellor's special grant.

The NAHT estimates that schools need 17,000 bursars and 28,000 technical support staff as well as more teachers.

It said that in primaries in London and parts of the South-east supply, unqualified and trainee teachers, along with classroom assistants, cover nearly 50 per cent of the teaching week. The situation is just as bad in secondaries, where many staff find themselves teaching outside their specialism.

Mr Hart said: "It's crazy to be faced with staffing cuts when we are supposed to be taking on more teachers and support staff to reduce workload." The Department for Education and Skills says funding per pupil has risen by an average of pound;550 to pound;3,310, a 20-per-cent increase, since 1997. But its figures do not adjust for the above-inflation rise in schools' costs.

Shadow education secretary Damian Green has urged Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education committee to investigate school funding. He said the survey showed schools were not benefiting from increases in spending. "The reality of life for schools is teacher shortages, recruitment difficulties and an ever-increasing reliance on supply staff," he said.

Mr Hart will tell the conference in Torquay that heads have delivered higher standards time and again during the past five years.

"To demotivate them, via an inadequate spending round, would be sheer folly," he warned.

Education spending needed to rise from just over 5 per cent of gross domestic product today to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 6 per cent by the end of the three-year period covered by next month's spending review, he said.

"This is a defining moment," said Mr Hart. "Any wavering on education exenditure would be a monumental betrayal of election promises." The association is concerned that political storms over health and transport will push schools' problems down the agenda. "Any suggestion that financial rewards are dished out on the basis that, the greater the crisis on the political Richter scale the more money you get, would be deeply damaging to schools," said Mr Hart.

Just two months ago the Government avoided industrial action by the two heads' unions over merit pay rises for senior teachers by raising funding for the scheme from pound;100 million to pound;110m.

Mr Hart pointed out that, though the Government has spent nearly pound;80m on making performance management work, it had underspent its education budget by pound;1.4 billion last year. This left it vulnerable to charges that it is shortchanging schools over funding for performance-related pay. He said: "We will not rest unless we have a stable performance management system that satisfies members. If we do not get this, we will be back again, blocking the system."

Employment prospects, 25

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