Unions savage school funding proposal

By Mark HeathA PROPOSAL to plug gaps in school funding with cash set aside for vital maintenance and repairs have been condemned by teaching bosses.Education Secretary Charles Clarke announced yesterday schools should use money earmarked for building repairs to pay staff and buy books and equipment.

By Mark Heath

A PROPOSAL to plug gaps in school funding with cash set aside for vital maintenance and repairs have been condemned by teaching bosses.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke announced yesterday schools should use money earmarked for building repairs to pay staff and buy books and equipment.

The move came as the Government tries to stave off a funding crisis which has hit schools hard across the country.


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Mr Clarke said the announcement would mean headteachers having access to more money for immediate spending requirements.

But the announcement was criticised by teaching unions, who claimed the Government was back-pedalling rather than admit its mistakes.

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Martin Goold, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “I think there can be very little doubt left that there is not enough money being provided by central government to meet the revenue budgets of schools this year, if they are having to make such a crisis management move.

“That money in the maintenance budget is there for very good reasons. We don't teach in palaces and there's still a backlog of repairs that have been identified by the local education authority in consultation with schools - this will simply delay the process. It is a nonsense.”

Chris Harrison, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the National Association of Head Teachers, also condemned the move.

“If this is meant to be a solution, then it's too little too late. The basic issue remains that there's insufficient funding in this budget,” he said.

“Someone hasn't added up their sums correctly and that's what has resulted in this problem. Many of us are still very concerned about it and it will result in job losses.”

Mr Harrison, headteacher of Oulton Broad Primary School, near Lowestoft, said about 23 teachers in the county were facing redundancy.

“This Government needs to build up teachers' confidence that their 'education, education, education' mantra actually means additional funding to schools, because that's not happening at the moment,” he added.

“This move has been likened to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and I think that's very apt.”

Terry Creissen, principal of Colne Community School in Brightlingsea and NAHT representative for Essex, echoed Mr Harrison's comments.

“One of the qualities of leadership is to accept when you get it wrong and Charles Clarke does not seem to want to accept that his Government have got it wrong,” he said.

“He has made a serious error of judgment. All he has done is take money from one budget that we desperately need and use it to support another serious need.

“It is missing the point. Whilst it may help this year, it will not in the long term - what are we going to do when our buildings fall down and need repairing further down the line?

“Serious questions need to be asked about the competence of a government that does not understand what it's actually like on the ground at schools across the country.”

Terry Lewis, headteacher of Mildenhall College of Technology, was also scathing about the proposal.

He said: “For us, this announcement is not very helpful as the Government have made the assumption money for building work at schools is just lying there and has not been committed.

“We became a college of technology in September and extensive building work has already been set aside. The idea most schools can put their building work on hold for a year is bordering on the absurd.”

But Mr Clarke's announcement did meet with some approval from Tim Beech, regional organiser for the National Association of School Masters and Women Teachers.

“It's a good idea. We welcome moves to alleviate possible redundancies and we think it's sensible to retain teachers rather than spending the money on other items,” he said.

“If it comes to a choice between surfacing the playground or retaining a teacher, then having the human resource in front of the class is more important.”

mark.heath@eadt.co.uk

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