Schools face new cash crisis

CASH-strapped schools in Essex are facing a further year of penny-pinching and possible cutbacks, a teaching union warned last night.Primary and secondary school budgets have just been revealed to headteachers by Essex County Council and most will be guaranteed about a 4% rise from April.

CASH-strapped schools in Essex are facing a further year of penny-pinching and possible cutbacks, a teaching union warned last night.

Primary and secondary school budgets have just been revealed to headteachers by Essex County Council and most will be guaranteed about a 4% rise from April.

But Jerry Glazier, Essex spokesman for the national executive of the NUT, said last night it was not enough and failed to solve the ongoing cash crisis facing the education system.

Last year, some schools had to cut back staff numbers and reduce or cut supply cover. Maintenance budgets and training funds also suffered.


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Mr Glazier said: "These latest settlements just compound the problems. Clearly they are not nearly adequate to meet the financial demands on schools, especially with the extra pressures faced by the workload agreements.

"The crisis is most certainly not over, not by a long way."

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He said schools faced another year of uncertainty and struggle to cope with budget shortages, rather than being allowed to concentrate on classroom matters.

Many headteachers claim the complicated system of funding needs a rethink because it is preventing them from making proper improvements.

They say they are having to rely increasingly on their finance managers because the school funding formula is becoming so convoluted.

The LEA – Essex County Council – receives annual grants from central Government and this is passed on to individual schools via a series of formulae, which are largely based on pupil numbers, although allowances are made for economies of scale, assumed to exist in larger schools.

Last year, more than 30 schools in Essex were forced to run budget deficits after Iris Pummell, the county council's education portfolio holder, said she anticipated more than £60million in cuts to the education budget over the next three years because of a change in Whitehall calculations.

As a result some schools were allowed to delve into their capital budgets to cover shortfalls. The Government also recognising the need for extra cash by announcing a series of transitional grants worth more than £9million.

These will be allocated to schools running deficits later this year after securing commitments from headteachers that they would balance their books by 2006/7.

Sue Shenton, headteacher at 450-pupil Mersea Island Primary School, which has a £50,000 deficit, said: "This settlement leaves us in a standstill position. We need to go forward, but we can't. I'm grateful for the government for putting so much emphasis on education, but they need to look at some of the changes that they are making.

"The new workload agreements are going to be the real headache this year because we have to pay for more cover while teachers spend time out of the classroom."

But Bob Reed, headteacher of the 1,300 pupil Anglo-European School, in Ingatestone, which takes large numbers of pupils from north Essex, was more positive, having just secured £280,000 transitional funding to cut its £350,000 deficit.

"We were put into the mess by the government, so it's only right that they should help us out," he said. "I'm not looking at any redundancies this year, but we still won't be in a position undertake repairs on buildings, for example."

Iris Pummell, the county's education portfolio holder, said: "Our secondary schools were the best funded in England and our primary schools among the best.

"Then the Government changed the formula and now schools are having to come to terms with that, which is not easy. "

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