Schools risk fiscal disaster by refusing to lay off teachers

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of schools are refusing to make teachers redundant - risking "catastrophic consequences" later in the year when they could run out of money to pay staff, a headteachers' leader says.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said schools around the country were adopting the tactic.

"I can understand why schools are doing it because obviously they don't want to damage the curriculum or make staff redundant," he said. A lot of schools are holding out against cuts in the hope they will get a really significant increase in funding later. However, they will be looking at a catastrophic situation if that doesn't happen."

Mr Hart said his office had received calls from hundreds of schools who told him they were refusing to make staff redundant. Town halls were "turning a blind eye" and schools were going it alone in some areas, he said, although others were reaching agreement with local education authorities to declare a deficit budget, with councils intending to recoup the money in future.

Council leaders and heads admit the end result could be children being sent home because schools cannot afford to pay teachers' wages.

Mr Hart warned that schools refusing to make redundancies could be denied control of their budgets - with powers over finance reverting to town halls "as an extreme measure". Sackings would then follow.

In Barnet, one of the councils worst hit by the funding crisis, eight secondary schools and three primaries are refusing to make teachers redundant because they say the cuts demanded of them will wreck the education they provide for their pupils.

The schools - which include three of the Government's new specialist schools and another awarded beacon status for its excellent teaching standards - all face budget shortfalls of between £200,000 and £250,000 this year. A shortfall that size means each of them would have to declare about eight teaching staff redundant - thus forcing schools to cut subject options.

Lynn Gadd, the headteacher of Copthall school, one of the eight, said: "You can't lose eight staff in a secondary school overnight without having a devastating effect.

"All of these schools are excellent and Ofsted [the education standards watchdog] has said they are all providing good value for money."

Already, the school has had to let staff go without replacing them - with the result that every teacher in the school will have to take an extra lesson a week next year at a time when the Government is boasting of an agreement with teachers' leaders to reduce their workload from September.

The schools have been negotiating with officials from Barnet council to declare a deficit budget this year but have so far been unable to reach agreement.

The eight secondary schools involved also include Ashmole, a specialist science school; The Compton, a beacon school; Christ's College, a specialist maths school; East Barnet, Hendon, Friern Barnet and St James's. Copthall is a specialist business and enterprise school.