Schools crisis could last three years

By Jonathan BarnesHEADTEACHERS in East Anglia have warned of dire consequences after a report showed the schools budget crisis could continue for another three years.

By Jonathan Barnes

HEADTEACHERS in East Anglia have warned of dire consequences after a report showed the schools budget crisis could continue for another three years.

Costs - mostly higher teacher salaries and pensions - are set to outstrip rising Government investment until 2006, according to a report by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers for the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

David Forrest, headteacher of Orwell High School in Felixstowe, said: “This is not a shock - but it is a disaster.”

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The union, which is locked in conflict with the Government on a number of fronts, claimed schools in England faced a £1billion black hole in their bank accounts, despite the Government's plan to pump in an extra £800million.

PricewaterhouseCoopers surveyed 36 schools in six local education authorities - including Essex - chosen to provide a representative sample across the country.

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The consultants stressed it was not possible to draw “firm national-level conclusions” from the survey.

But its research showed the primary schools surveyed faced an increase in costs of 16% in 2003-04, 21% in 2004-05 and 27% in 2005-06.

By contrast, the Government's last three-year spending plan promised a 12.9% rise in education investment in 2003-04 above 2002-03 levels, giving a 1.1% shortfall at primary level.

Investment in 2004-05 was projected to rise to 18.2% over 2002-03, leaving a 2.8% deficit, and in 2005-06 to 23.4%, meaning primary schools faced 3.6% gap.

Secondary school costs were set to rise 14% in 2003-04, 19% in 2004-05 and 24% in 2005-06. But that would leave them facing a 1.1% deficit in 2003-04, a 0.8% shortfall in 2004-05 and a 0.6% gap in 2005-06, said the consultants.

The union said if those figures were replicated across England, the shortfall between primary school income and costs would be £256m in 2003-04, £231m in 2004-05 and £297m in 2005-06.

Secondary schools faced a funding gap of £97m in 2003-04, £71m in 2004-05 and £53min 2005-06, added the NUT.

Its general secretary, Doug McAvoy, said: “The underlying assumptions on pay and price increases used by PricewaterhouseCoopers are extremely cautious.

“Yet the evidence points to a dramatic problem arising from a massive shortfall in funding for our schools.”

Mr Forrest, who had to cut five teaching posts at Orwell High School to cope with a £172,000 shortfall this year, added: “We were suspicious this sort of thing would not be a one-off, but part of the scenery we are dealing with over the next few years.”

Tony Lewis, member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee, said: “We have already written to the Department for Education in detail to tell them about the pressures that Suffolk schools have experienced this year, stressing the need for a realistic financial settlement for counties like Suffolk.

“Although there is the potential for future problems if the Government doesn't recognise fully the pressures on schools and education services, we acknowledge that Education Secretary Charles Clarke has said he intends that the kind of funding difficulties experienced this year should not be repeated.”

Iris Pummell, cabinet member for education at Essex County Council, added: “A great number of Essex schools are having to set a deficit budget. They are assuming they will be in debt at the end of the year. That is a worrying trend.

“Historically, our schools have been among the best-funded of any county in the country.

“The high cost of staffing and the low increase in council tax settlement has had very severe consequences on very many of our 600 schools.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The evidence the NUT cites is based on just 36 selected schools within only six local education authorities and, as such ,does not paint a representative national figure.

“Under this Government spending is up by nearly £800 per pupil since 1997 and will be up by more than £1,000 per pupil by 2005-06.”

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