Parents join protest over cuts as teachers strike

Demonstration and industrial action in Oxfordshire as government cash squeeze forces council to cut more than £11m from education
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The Independent Online
More than 2,000 parents, governors and teachers chanted and waved placards outside Oxfordshire County Council's headquarters yesterday as the national protest against cuts in education spending grew.

Mothers with children and teenagers from local schools and even a few men in City suits demonstrated as the council met to set next year's budget.

Some parents turned up in slings to symbolise the effects of spending cuts, which the council says are the result of the Government's cash squeeze and its refusal to fund the 2.7 per cent teachers' pay award.

"I don't want to lose my teacher," read the sandwich board of one small child. Major Cuts, Schools Bleed, Tax Bribes, School Cuts and Major's Classless Society said others.

The demonstration was timed to coincide with half-day strikes by teachers from two unions, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, and most schools were closed.

Oxfordshire, which has to cut about £23.5m from its budget this year, about half of it from education, has been in the forefront of the fight against cuts. The council says between 300 and 400 teachers could lose their jobs and class sizes could increase.

Shropshire parents and teachers demonstrated last week and a national protest in London is planned for 25 March.

At the Oxford protest, Peter Baker, chairman of governors at Wheatley Park School, where governors have voted to set a deficit budget this year, appealed to all the county's governing bodies to do the same.

"If we all do the same, there is no way the county council or Department for Education can move and take schools away from us. The Government has given power to governors. We shall continue to manage schools until we are forcibly removed."

David Long, an Oxford parent with two children, said: "What parents see is that education is being used as a political football between central and local government. We won't stand for it."

Andy Swarbrick, the father of two children, said: "Every school is talking about losing at least two teachers. We are very worried about teachers becoming demoralised by the cuts and we are concerned about increased class sizes. We blame the Government, not the council."

Other parents pointed out that many schools may have to reconsider the support they give to children with learning difficulties. Kate Williams, a mother of three, said pupils with special needs would be especially hurt by the cuts. "In any group of a dozen families, half will have had special-need support at some time. If teachers are trying to deal with large classes there is no way they attend to children with special needs. The whole system will collapse under the strain."

Teachers said they had demonstrated to reduce class sizes from 40 to under 30 in the Sixties and they were not prepared to see them go up again.

The Government admits that this year's spending round is tight but says councils are being allowed a 1.1 per cent rise in cash terms and that savings can be found through productivity.

The Labour group on Oxfordshire's hung council wants to set a budget that will break the Government's cash limits or "cap" on the amount local authorities can spend, but Conservative and Liberal Democrats are opposing their proposal.