Schools face funding crisis

By Danielle NuttallTEACHING officials have branded a primary school funding crisis in Suffolk as the worst “since the Thatcher era”. Headteachers across the county have warned a shortfall in this year's budget could lead to increased class sizes and cutbacks on books and equipment.

By Danielle Nuttall

TEACHING officials have branded a primary school funding crisis in Suffolk as the worst “since the Thatcher era”.

Headteachers across the county have warned a shortfall in this year's budget could lead to increased class sizes and cutbacks on books and equipment.

Some have even been forced to slash the number of classroom assistants or reduce support staff hours in an effort to pay the increasing cost of teachers' salaries.

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Martin Goold, county secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned Suffolk was facing a “crisis situation”.

He added: “I think it's the worst we have faced for some years. It's reminiscent of the days of the cuts under the Thatcher Government.

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“If you are having fewer teachers, then you have got larger teaching groups. Obviously it's going to make it much more difficult and eventually that will have an effect on the delivery of the curriculum.”

Headteachers claim this year's education budget is barely enough to cover teachers' wages, despite being promised millions of pounds worth of extra funding from the Government.

Increases in staffing costs, National Insurance contributions and pensions have left them unable to fund existing classroom assistants, instead of employing more to reduce teacher workloads, as outlined by the Government.

A crisis meeting involving headteachers from across Suffolk is to be held at County Hall in Ipswich next week to discuss the problem.

Alison Beckett, headteacher at Dale Hall Primary School in Ipswich, said: “Basically, we are all strapped for cash, we really are.

“To try to balance the budgets and provide all the resources for the children and staff is getting more and more difficult.

“Resources for children are becoming more of a luxury now because we don't have the money.”

She added: “I can't give my curriculum as much equipment, resource books as I have in the past. I also can't put as much money on the teaching supply budget.

“It's been broadcast that schools are getting so many million, but I do not know where it is.”

Alan Shoote, headteacher of Combs Ford Primary School, near Stowmarket, said this year's budget had been the worst he had seen in 23 years as a headteacher.

“For the first time in my career I have had to reduce jobs in school in non-teaching staff,” he added.

“Basically, we've had to carry money forward that many schools have for contingencies and we are spending that to stay solvent.”

Val Phillips, headteacher at Kedington Primary School in Haverhill, said she had hoped to increase the school's classes to five next year, but financial pressures meant that was now out of the question.

Classes for children aged four and five would now comprise 29 or 30 pupils, she warned.

“I have next-to-nothing in my budget at all once the personnel costs have been paid. My personnel costs, including teaching assistants, exceeded the delegated budget,” she said.

“I'm reducing hours, which is problematic with an increasing role. I have four part-time teaching assistants and their hours will be reduced minimally.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the Government had allocated a 3.5% increase per pupil funding to Suffolk.

“The local education authority have passed the vast majority of this increase on so schools should be able to meet their financial commitments. However, they have not passed on the entire increase,” he added.

“We want to see all authorities making strenuous efforts to pass on increases in education funding in full in the future.”

But Suffolk County Council insisted the full increase in the Government's provision to schools - £28.3m - had been passed directly to schools.

A spokeswoman said the increase would cover the cost of teachers' pay rises and increases in pensions and National Insurance contributions.

Tony Lewis, a member of the county council's executive committee, added: “We continue to give education the highest priority and we have allocated as much financial support to schools as is possible.

“Undoubtedly school governors and headteachers will have to make some hard decisions on how they can best use their budgets and we will continue to support schools in their financial management processes.

“We are responsible for delegating money to schools, according to a set formula that we have consulted schools on, and Suffolk has some of the highest levels of delegated funding compared to county councils generally.”

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