Schools facing funding crisis

By Juliette MaxamPRIMARY school teachers in north Essex could be made redundant as cash-strapped headteachers are forced to make cuts to balance their books.

By Juliette Maxam

PRIMARY school teachers in north Essex could be made redundant as cash-strapped headteachers are forced to make cuts to balance their books.

Twelve schools– mainly rural primary schools in the Colchester and Halstead areas – have told Essex County Council and the National Union of Teachers they were considering making staff redundant.

Headteachers of primary and secondary schools were given their final budget settlement on Friday for the financial year 2003/4.

The county council, which is anticipating a £64 million cut in the education budget over the next three years, has given them a "standstill budget".

But Essex NUT executive member Jerry Glazier said schools were effectively facing cuts as inflationary pressures whittled down their budgets.

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Those pressures included a 5.15% increase in schools' contributions to teachers' pensions, a 1% rise in National Insurance employers' payments and having to foot the bill for a Government promise to increase senior teachers' pay.

Mr Glazier said: "I'm very concerned that a big number of schools in the county may be under increased pressure with budgets. It will be an absolute disaster for any school to lose staff, especially in the current situation of teacher shortages.

"If they're going to have redundancies issued to numbers of staff, whether teaching or non-teaching, that will do nothing for teacher morale. It has a very negative effect on teachers.

"If rural schools with four or five teachers have no alternative but to lose one, the impact is much more profound because of the close way colleagues work together.

"You don't improve education standards with inadequate numbers of teachers, poor teacher supply and then on top of that the threat of redundancy."

Mr Glazier said he had received 12 notices from governing bodies of potential redundancies – two from large secondary schools in south Essex, the rest from rural primary schools in north and north-west Essex.

"My fear is that all schools will see a reduction in their funding and in some schools it will be sufficient to tip them over the edge," he added.

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council cabinet member for education, said: "I would have liked to have given schools more and they know I would have liked to have given them more.

"Over the last two years we have tried to change the primary and secondary differential. We have tried to put additional money in for new initiatives. It's just impossible when you haven't got enough to put into schools."

She admitted some schools are considering redundancies and warned next year could be even worse when the Government is due to scrap more of its standards fund grants – cash given to schools for specific projects such as "golden hellos" to lure more people into teaching.

The county's education budget was hit when Essex lost out after the Government drew up new formulae for giving money to local authorities.

The Government promised a 3.2% increase in funding for each school pupil and gave Essex a £44.4m "damping" grant for 2003/4 to make up the shortfall between this year's budget settlement and the promised education rise.

Essex County Council is expecting this to be axed next year and the scrapping of standards fund grants over the next three years has also shaved £20m off its education budget.

Education bosses have been looking for ways to save money and are currently considering toughening the criteria for giving primary schoolchildren free home-to-school transport.

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