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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Heads complain of funding unfairness
By Gary Eason at the NAHT conference in Jersey
Head teachers say the "glaring irregularities" in the funding of England's schools are "ludicrous".
Resolutions passed at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers called for a national funding formula for schools rather than the present locally-based system.
The association's general secretary says it shows heads are "browned off" with local education authorities (LEAs).
But delegates stopped short of saying that all LEAs should be replaced by private contractors.
One after another, head teachers and deputies from around the country denounced the existing funding system.
Martin Fry from Cheltenham said all children were entitled to get quality education and he called on the government to move to a national funding formula.
Brian Tetlow, a former head teacher from Manchester, said it was "patently ludicrous" that schools within a quarter of a mile of each other should have significantly different levels of funding purely because they happened to fall within different LEAs.
Gillian Mitchell from Sunderland demanded that LEAs be required to pass on to schools at least 80% of the money the government intended to be spent on education in their areas.
Ray Woodward from Swanland said the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, should worry less about the inequities between the state and private education systems and more about the "glaring irregularities" in state funding.
Schools and LEAs were increasingly compared with one another and the public latched onto league tables of their performance.
"Where, Mr Brown, is your nationally published league table of pupil funding?" he said.
John Killeen said he was "tired of playing the local lottery" with the children in his Yorkshire primary school.
A change in the funding system would be more effective in raising their achievement than any numeracy or literacy strategies, he said.
The mechanism by which schools and LEAs have to bid for additional money from the Standards Fund was also criticised.
Bob Jones from Hampshire said it made it impossible for him to plan properly and balance his school's budget because he could not be sure what his income was until after the end of the financial year.
"Children are getting an education that depends on how well we put our bids together," he said.
Clive Hallett said that in David Blunkett's first two years as education secretary a small team at his LEA, Oxfordshire, had submitted 1,015 bids for extra funding - of which only 13 had been successful.
"What a waste of their time," he said.
But there were attacks on those LEAs which were failing to provide a proper service to schools.
Simon Marsh from Islington in London, which is now managed by a private contractor, CEA, said some LEAs were superb.
"But some LEAs are lousy," he said.
"Up to now, no mechanism has existed to check them or make them work, and our children have paid the price."
But now, as in Islington, private firms could take over - being made accountable by being set targets to meet with financial penalties for failure.
He proposed replacing LEAs with private contractors, but accepted an amendment which said that schools in failing LEAs should have "immediate access to the highest quality advice on strategic issues".
Speaking afterwards, the union's general secretary, David Hart, said: "Heads are browned off with local authorities in terms of their role.
"They are not yet ready to abandon ship and throw in their lot with private contractors.
"The amendment was accepted because heads are not convinced that professional management consultants or private sector contractors can necessarily deliver the answer which the government is seeking."
Ministers have recently given approval to more firms to run local education services, and are about to hold a consultation on a radical overhaul of the system.
Mr Hart said the debate was "a very serious warning" to councils that head teachers want the role of LEAs to be redefined.
His predication of the change that would come with the next general election was that, if councils could offer effective, good value education services, schools would buy them.
"If they can't the schools will go elsewhere, and that's where the private sector contractors come into the equation - not taking over the role of the local authority," he said.
Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, who was visiting the conference, said the usual problem in failing authorities was the quality of leadership given by the elected councillors.
He said it would be "daft" to separate the money LEAs get to run their services from the money intended for schools.
Overall, local authorities put £600m a year more into education than the government required them to, funding the extra from local taxes.
If the Treasury were controlling schools' budgets they would be worse off and educational standards would suffer, he said.
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