A nation divided by its schools

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The Independent Online
SCHOOL governors and parents were urged yesterday to become "polite rottweilers" towards local councillors and MPs to bring home to the Government the consequences of education cuts.

The call came from Seamus Crowe, a head teacher from Bedworth, Warwickshire and a founding organiser of a campaign against education cuts, which launched itself yesterday as a national movement in the wake of Thursday's under-funded 2.7 per cent teachers' pay rise.

Many local education authorities say spending restrictions mean they cannot finance the increase and schools will have to sack staff to pay the rest more.

Yesterday, head teachers' leaders decided to recommend that their members send children home rather than teach in over-crowded classrooms.

"We have a very hard battle ahead of us," Mr Crowe told a meeting of 150 parents, governors and representatives of local education authorities at Newbould Avon Middle School, Rugby, Warwickshire.

In Warwickshire alone, the county council is predicting the loss of up to 240 teaching jobs out of just over 4,000. But there are two faces of education in the county - public and private.

A distance of 26 miles separates Emscote Lawn Prep School in Warwick from Camp Hill Middle School in Nuneaton, but they could be in different worlds.

Tony McDonald, head teacher at Camp Hill, is facing a £46,000 budget deficit and the loss of three out of 10 teaching staff. He will have to take on a full teaching timetable himself next year unless the council can find more money. Jonathan Riley, headmaster at Emscote Lawn, an independent school, has few of his problems.

Mr McDonald cannot see a way forward. With more than 100 of his 226 pupils entitled to free meals and over half the eight-year-olds entering the school unable to read, he already has a heavy job coping with a wide range of social problems.

Fortunately the one-storey 1950s buildings at Camp Hill are well maintained and there is room for six classes of around 30 and a further two - a particularly difficult year group - of 20.

The school is proud of its new library - two shelves of books plus some paperbacks for children to take home. There are also some poster books of works by famous artists.

The school has a cooking and science room, but the gas taps have had to be turned off in case pupils gas themselves.

The fish tank in this room lies empty since the tropical fish froze to death during the holidays - replacements cost money.

There is a large expanse of grass outside on which pupils play football and hockey, but the school is looking for a way to open an access route to it so that it can be sold for housing.

Gym and indoor games take place in the hall. The school has 10 computers but no computer room - some are in classrooms, some in the corridors.

French must be taught under the national curriculum to the top class - 11 and 12-year-olds - but this school starts early and spreads a one- year course over two years because many children would otherwise have difficulty. The French teacher spends more than half her time helping children with special needs.

The school has £1,576 to spend per child per year, including extra help for children with learning or behavioural difficulties. In 1993-94 it spent £26,000 on books and equipment; in 1994-95, £14,000. In 1995-96 it will have £7,000 to spend.

Mr McDonald's colleagues in other schools and at County Hall have told him he simply cannot take on a class himself, but he sees no alternative. "You can't make those savings by turning the lights off."

Bigger classes are also out of the question with the type of children the school caters for. Unemployment in Camp Hill, a former Coal Board estate, runs at more than 40 per cent.

Things are bad but they will be even worse next year when the school will take a further cut because a reorganisation will change its age range from 8-12 to 7-11, and younger children bring in less money. "We will have the same number of children and the same standard costs for the building. So where do we make another £30,000 cut next year?" Mr McDonald asked.

Emscote Lawn also has good reason to be proud of its facilities. Its classrooms, built around an old country house, provide standards which most state secondary schools would envy.

There are two computer rooms, separate and fully equipped biology, physics and chemistry labs, a music block with recording studio, an art centre and an indoor swimming pool.

Games facilities include Astro-turf pitches, space for football, rugby and netball, and old grass tennis courts.

The library is fully stocked but there are also book collections in each department - children receive specialist teaching in all subjects. Original works of art by nationally and internationally known artists hang on the walls.

Children start French at three and Latin at nine, and there is a fully equipped language lab.

More than half last year's leavers won scholarships to major independent schools.

The school pays its teachers on national scales and has budgeted for a 3 per cent rise this year.

Its day fees for the over-sevens are £4,287 per year, including meals but not textbooks. The average class size is 14.7.

Parents range from the very wealthy to those who struggle with fees, but the only problem children here are the over-indulged, Mr Riley says.

He feels Emscote Lawn is a good school to compare with a state school because it does not have charitable status and so has none of the tax advantages.

"It's no good feeling guilty. All I do is to try to produce the education here that I firmly believe in and which hopefully benefits the children. It depends on management - that's the key to it."