Parents divided over £1 levy to save teaching job

Cash-strapped village school needs donations or a baby boom to balance its ailing budget

Education Correspondent

Parents yesterday faced up to the prospect of paying £1 a week to prevent the loss of a teacher at their children's school.

Outside the gates of Welford and Sulby Endowed School, a 114 pupil primary school in rural Northamptonshire, there was some anger but also support for the school's governors.

Jenny Raisbury, whose six-year-old son Ben attends the school, said she had promised to pay the money if the majority of parents agreed. "I don't object if it will keep the school going as it is. But I don't think we will get full support from all the parents. It also raises the problem that if it's £1 this year, what will be it next year?"

Kim Furnell, who has two daughters at the school, said the request was an indictment of national education policies. "I object very strongly in principle to being asked to contribute to what is supposed to be a free education service", she said. "But when your child's welfare is at stake, principles come second."

As reported in yesterday's Independent, the school's governors have given parents a week to decide whether to contribute to a voluntary levy in order to raise £4,500. They have also decided to do without £2,000 worth of supply-teaching cover and have asked the Parents' Association to raise a further £1,500. Many schools have been forced to make tough decisions this year after the Government decided not to fund the teachers' 2.7 per cent pay rise.

Inside Welford and Sulby yesterday, the chairman of governors, the Rev Richard Cattle, was dealing with a stream of media inquiries. The governors have not sought publicity - it was a parent who approached the press - but they hope it may bring financial relief.

Rev Cattle, who is also vicar of St Mary's Church across the road, explained their dilemma. Eighty-five per cent of the school's total budget goes on staff costs, most of it on paying one part-time and five full-time teachers. There are also two part-time classroom assistants, one administrative assistant, three lunchtime supervisors and two cleaners. The remaining £20,450 must cover everything from toilet rolls to grass- cutting. The £1,500 set aside for maintenance will not last long if there is a spate of vandalism.

Each enrolment to the school eases its plight and Mr Cattle is in a good position to keep an eye on the birth rate in the village. If 10 new pupils came through the door the problem would be solved, he said. Two years ago the school role was relatively high and £20,000 was saved by the end of the year. Last year, this figure was reduced to £8,000 and this year there will be a shortfall of more than £7,000.

Opposite the school is the home of Lord Boardman, former chief secretary to the Treasury under Ted Heath, who has lived in the village for 40 years. He believes the blame for the crisis cannot be attributed to the Government. He suggested that Labour local authorities were using school budgets to make a political point.

"The Conservative opposition on the local council put forward a budget which would have given increased expenditure to education. As far as I can see, the cuts aren't made where they will do the minimum damage, but where they are politically most sensitive", he said.