Teachers warn of continuing cash crisis

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Labour is at risk of fighting the next election against a backdrop of teachers facing the sack and schools putting pupils on a four-day week, Britain's biggest teachers' union warned yesterday.

A study of school finances by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that this year's funding crisis - in which more than 1,000 teachers have been declared redundant - will continue until at least 2006, the last date by which Mr Blair can hold an election. The study looked at six local education authorities and concluded that primary schools need an extra 27 per cent in funding and secondaries 24 per cent as opposed to the 23.4 per cent they will receive by 2006 under Chancellor Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review.

The lack of funding would make it difficult to implement key contractual obligations in the new teachers' contract - the centrepiece of Tony Blair's cherished public-service reform for education. Schools would face severe difficulties meeting the requirement to guarantee teaching staff 10 per cent of school time away from the classroom for marking and preparation.

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers - which commissioned the study - said many schools were on the brink of reducing pupil hours because of this year's funding crisis.

"Schools will be struggling to provide the education parents expect and children are entitled to at a time when the Government will be trying to spin how much better schools have become," he said. "If the Government doesn't improve finances ... Tony Blair will not be able to go to the country in the next election saying our reforms on education are working.

"The election will be against a background of schools not having sufficient resources, relying on more and more parental contributions, having an inadequate number of teachers and trying to get away with unqualified teachers doing the job on the cheap."

The NUT said it believed the study painted a "conservative estimate" of the trouble ahead.