Schools face 4-day week 'because of funding cuts'

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The Independent Online

A local education authority's 125 headteachers are writing to all parents in the borough warning that their children's school might be placed on a four-day week because of a funding crisis.

A local education authority's 125 headteachers are writing to all parents in the borough warning that their children's school might be placed on a four-day week because of a funding crisis.

The unprecedented step is being taken in the Labour-run borough of Croydon, south London, whose secondary schools are threatened with budget cuts of up to £750,000 next year – the equivalent of 30 teachers' jobs.

The letter – which is being sent to all the parents of the 40,000 schoolchildren in the borough – says the cash crisis will lead to scores of teacher redundancies and the prospect of schools being forced to consider shorter working hours or a four-day week.

If the threats are carried through, it will be the first time pupils have been put on part-time schooling because of cuts in spending since Labour came to power in 1997, promising more money for schools. In the past, shortened working weeks have occurred only because schools were unable to attract enough teaching staff.

The borough says it has lost out as a result of a new government formula aimed at trying to redistribute education spending more fairly throughout the regions. Richard Ford, the president of the Croydon Headteachers' Association and head of Archbishop Tenison's Church of England secondary school, said that several secondary schools were already contemplating a four-day week.

Primary schools – where budgets are being slashed by up to £200,000 – are also in difficulties as a result of the agreement between the Government and teachers' leaders to reduce excessive workloads.

The headteachers say the borough needs an extra £10m – £270 per pupil – to break even and that the authority has suffered because a new government formula for funding schools has redistributed money from southern authorities to the North.

However, Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, singled out Croydon, one of two authorities, for criticismas last month, claiming it was failing to spend enough money on schools. He said it was only spending 74.8 per cent of its allocation from the Government and ordered the figure to be increased to 92 per cent. After negotiations, an extra £1m was earmarked for education last week – but the heads say they will only get £250,000, or just £6 per pupil.

In their letter, they warn that schools face redundancies among teaching and support staff, a shorter working week for pupils, increased class sizes, subjects being slashed from the curriculum and a freeze on building maintenance. They say they are pressing for a judicial review of the budget-setting process, claiming it has resulted in "education suicide" for Croydon.

A representative of the Croydon Headteachers' Association said: "The situation is appalling. We have been lobbying the Department for Education and Skills for weeks now but we are still not getting enough money. This can only mean one thing: the standard of education in Croydon will deteriorate and every single Croydon school child will suffer."

Croydon Council said that it believed the headteachers' comments were "alarmist" although it acknowledged that the shortfall in education funding was "significant". It said parents needed to understand the difficulties schools faced but added that it did not believe there was a need for the "extreme measures" forecast in the headteachers' letter.

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