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Region's schools braced for cutbacks

PUBLISHED: 07:30 01 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:22 06 July 2010

The golden age of soaring numbers of teachers and other staff in East Anglia's classrooms is over, education chiefs warned last night.

The latest figures show a record number of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff are working in schools in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire this year.

The golden age of soaring numbers of teachers and other staff in East Anglia's classrooms is over, education chiefs warned last night.

The latest figures show a record number of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff are working in schools in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire this year.

Apart from the occasional blip, including when a funding dip saw significant redundancies in 2003, the numbers have been increasing since Labour came to power in 1997.

In Norfolk, the number of teachers has jumped from 5,940 in 1997 to this year's 6,560, while Cambridgeshire has gone up from 4,040 to 4,610 and Suffolk from 5,330 to 5,760.

But, despite prime minister Gordon Brown's conference pledge to maintain investment in education in future years, schools are bracing themselves for cutbacks.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of children's services, said: “With high levels of investment coming into the education system over recent years we've been very pleased that in Norfolk we have maintained very high levels of staffing in our schools.

“The position that we have reached in the last year is probably as high as these numbers will be for the foreseeable future, though. The current economic climate has come at the same time as a slight decline in pupil numbers working through our schools.

“With a continuing drive for greater efficiency, and the belt inevitably being tightened on the public sector, I would expect to see our school workforce number fall back slightly over the coming years.”

While the increase in teacher numbers has been eye-catching, the rise in teaching assistants and support staff has been particularly rapid.

In Norfolk, full-time teaching assistants in the 440 state schools rose from 730 in 1997 to 3,260 this year, while support staff increased from 1,900 to 5,460.

In Suffolk, TAs increased from 500 to 2,250 and support staff from 1,510 to 4,220, while in Cambridgeshire - where boundary changes mean figures can only be reliably compared from 2001 - TAs increased from 1,230 in 2001 to 2,370 this year and support staff from 2,120 in 2001 to 3,750.

Colin Collis, Norfolk secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), said: “We are bracing ourselves for issues.”

He said the picture was clouded by the current fall in pupil numbers in schools, which meant fewer teachers would be needed. But he said projected housing in Norfolk could lead to pupil and teacher numbers increasing in the future.

“We are very much guided by demographics.”

Addressing the Labour conference on Tuesday, Mr Brown promised to increase investment in schools in England.

He said: “I can tell you that in the next five years we cannot and will not cut support to our schools. We will not invest less, but more.”

Mr Brown's pledge comes little over a week after schools secretary Ed Balls said education spending could be cut by £2bn by axing thousands of senior staff and being “disciplined” over pay.

Mr Balls said one option was to merge comprehensives to form federations. He stressed he had no plans to increase class sizes or lose front-line staff.

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