The shires voice their ire

`They have put us here to do a job and we are saying that it cannot be done' `Solid citizens' are rallying together to protest against cuts. Fran Abrams rep orts
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The Independent Online
Sitting in a headteachers' meeting and swapping horror stories on underfunding, Roger Daw decided something should be done. After almost 30 years in teaching, he has resigned from his post at Ely Community College in Cambridgeshire in protest at cuts in education spending. "Primary colleagues were talking about classes of 38 next year; in my school I have parents doing all the decorating, and in some schools we are into sharing text books.

"I honestly believe there is a generation of children going through who are desperately ill-served. I cannot put my hand on my heart and say that I am able to deliver for them the quality that I would like them to receive."

Mr Daw's school has suffered funding cutbacks in four of the past five years and and is facing another cut of between £70,000 and £90,000 this year, despite rising pupil numbers. His resignation, however, is based on more than that. He believes someone must take a stand against the deterioration of the education service, and he is not alone.

Across the country, campaigns against education spending allocations for 1995/96 are taking on an intensity rarely seen before. While cries of pain are heard every year from headteachers, governors and parents over annual budgets, there can be little doubt that this year their anguish is well founded.

Ministers say education spending will rise by 1.1 per cent this year, and that local authorities must make cuts in their own staffs if they want to give more money to schools. But their opponents, who include huge numbers of parents, governors and teachers, argue that with 2.5 per cent inflation they face the worst cuts for 30 years. The Department for Education's central budget will rise by 4.1 per cent next year. Campaigners say the cuts will amount to almost £200 for every secondary pupil and £50 for each primary pupil.

As a national campaign gathers pace, stories of determined efforts to raise public awareness on the issue are emerging from many areas. Those involved are not natural protesters, but are mainly people from the shire counties, many of whom have been Conservative voters in the past.

In Shropshire, 36 school governing bodies have threatened either to resign or refuse to set budgets rather than impose staff cuts. If they do either of these things, the county council will be forced to step in and take over, but the schools doubt whether the local authority has the resources to cope. They hope the council will be forced to explain to the Department for Education that the cuts cannot be implemented.

Kath Howard, of the Shropshire School Governors' Association, is co-ordinating the campaign. "We really are saying no. They have put us here as responsible, solid citizens to do a job, and we are saying that it cannot be done," she says.

In Derbyshire, a headteacher has warned that he may have to send children home if his school's budget is cut again. Robin Lees, head of Swanwick Hall School in Swanwick, said other heads privately admitted they might be forced to do the same. His school's budget was cut by £150,000 last year and will face a deficit of at least £30,000 by next month.

"There has been talk of meltdown in schools by next year, but in Derbyshire we feel it will probably happen this year. Universally, it is felt that schools cannot provide a proper curriculum and set a legal budget: the two are in-compatible," he says.

Now the campaigns that are generating large meetings in each county - more than 400 parents from a few schools in north Oxfordshire turned up to protest, for example - are to be co-ordinated by a national body, the Fight Against Cuts in Education (Face).

The group lobbied MPs yesterday as Parliament debated local authority settlements, and it already claims strong support from some Conservative backbenchers. While few were expected to vote against the Government, several were expected to raise their concerns during the debate.

Among them was Alan Howarth, a former education minister and MP for Stratford-on-Avon. He planned to intervene in Wednesday's debate and believed that some of his fellow backbenchers would do the same.

Investment in education is among the most important issues the Government faces, he believes.

"I see this as a mistaken policy on the part of the Government. It is primitively short-sighted to fail to invest in education," Mr Howarth says.

Face has been launched by a group from Warwickshire, which includes Bob Jelly, headteacher of St Giles Middle School in Bedworth. The group's first meeting will be held in Rugby on 11 February.

"More and more people in the different counties feel the same way, and the launch of the campaign will bring them all together. We haven't found anybody who supports this policy," Mr Jelly says.

Face can be contacted on mobile phone number 0589 789104, or by fax or answerphone on 0926 410930.