Teacher posts under threat

A CASH crisis in Essex schools has led to 38 teacher redundancies – with the number likely to rise by the end of May when headteachers must set their budgets.

A CASH crisis in Essex schools has led to 38 teacher redundancies – with the number likely to rise by the end of May when headteachers must set their budgets.

And other schools in the county have managed to avoid making staff cuts only be setting budgets running into the red by up to £500,000.

Essex County Council education department gave the county's schools a standstill budget – but teachers' pay rises, extra teacher pension contributions, higher National Insurance payments and other inflationary measures have left schools facing cuts.

Education bosses at county hall have warned the situation can only get worse, as £70 million of cuts are expected in the next three years due to the Government's abolition of standards funds grants and its re-working of the formula used to give local authorities money which has shaved millions of pounds off Essex's income.

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Sue Shenton, head of Mersea Island primary school has warned she must either make three teachers redundant or lose all her teaching assistants because she does not have enough money to run her school.

Mrs Shenton is spending the Easter holidays trying to decide where the axe should fall. And the situation at her school is the same at other primary schools across Essex, according to teachers' leader Howard Williamson.

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Mr Williamson, chairman of the north east branch of the Essex Primary Schools Headteachers Association, said over 250 Essex primary heads have contacted him to say they do not have enough money to manage their schools.

Mrs Shenton said: "I'm going to have to lose staff. I have to decide whether to wipe out teaching assistants or lose teachers. I'm looking at running with nothing for new books or paper. We're running with no absence cover and no training."

She added: "What grieves me particularly is if the Government can't afford to fund us, fine, then say so and I'll do my best to do so. But they're telling my parents we are awash with cash. I'm saying to parents we're going to put 40 in a class. It makes everybody angry and frustrated."

Mrs Shenton has to set her budget by May 31. She has explained the situation to the teachers and is planning a meeting with her teaching assistants to explain she may have to lose 100 teaching assistant hours.

"I virtually can't run the school. I don't know where to go," she said.

The chairman of governors at North primary school and nursery, in Colchester, Jan Blackwell, has written to the leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield, to express the school's "grave concerns" over the budget.

North is able to get through this year without cutting staff by using savings put aside for curriculum development and maintenance on the Victorian listed building.

But Mrs Blackwell warned: "Long term this situation deeply concerns me. Standards will not rise, redundancies will be necessary to induce savings leading to low staff morale, and little or no fresh input into curriculum resources will de-motivate pupils."

Mr Williamson said: "There's a major problem and all heads are saying the same thing. There just isn't enough money to run schools."

He is compiling a report from the responses he has head from headteachers, which he will present to Essex County Council after Easter.

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council cabinet member with responsibility for education, said: "Schools have really got to make some unpopular decisions. There's nothing I can do to help them. We have given them as much money as we can and there's no more in Essex."

She added: "The National Headteachers Association has said there are going to be 70 redundancies in Essex. I don't know what that figure's going to be. I know schools are facing very difficult decisions."

Mrs Pummell said as far as possible teachers made redundant would be redeployed in schools with staff shortages that could afford to pay for new staff.

She said she and officers from the education department held a meeting with the Department for Education and Skills earlier this week to set out the exact situation in Essex.

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