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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Schools may get their own funding
By Gary Eason at the NAHT conference in Jersey
The education secretary is proposing that money for schools in England should be allocated directly to them instead of to local education authorities.
The move would go a long way towards ending the annual row over whether or not councils pass on to schools the money ministers intend them to have.
But councils say many schools could end up worse off if this leads to a simplified national funding formula.
The idea is one of a range of options that will be in a government consultation document on the funding system, to be published later in the year.
These were outlined by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, when he addressed the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference on Thursday morning.
He said the aim is to remove the worst of the disparities in the present system - under which schools get very different amounts to spend per pupil because they fall in different local education authority areas.
The option he favoured involved separating school and local education authority (LEA) budgets.
The idea is a natural extension of Labour's "fair funding formula" for schools which has already given heads greater control over some aspects of their budgets.
It builds on the initiative announced in this year's Budget, when head teachers were given grants of up to £50,000 apiece to spend as they wished on things that would raise educational standards.
LEAs would get their own central government grants for the functions they carry out.
These include co-ordinating provision for pupils with learning difficulties, providing school transport, turning round failing schools and overseeing admissions.
Mr Blunkett repeated that these would have to be carried out by an alternative structure even if LEAs were abolished, as some would like.
But the challenge was to get more transparent funding arrangements.
"So that when we say we have allocated an additional 8% to schools this year, schools can see where it's come from and where it's going to."
If education authorities wanted to top that up from local taxes they would get the credit for it - and if not, the electorate would be able to judge them on it.
"It seems to us if we do that everybody will get something out of it," he said. "This is not a knocking job against education authorities."
He told journalists afterwards that he thought the money for schools would continue to be distributed via education authorities, but untouched. They were best placed to take account of detailed local requirements.
"The idea of inventing an agency to do all those things nationally for 24,000 schools leaves me cold," he said.
The announcement went down well with the audience of heads and deputies. The union's general secretary, David Hart, said he was "delighted".
"A redefinition of the roles of schools and local education authorities is long overdue," he said.
It was the authorities' duty to provide services which schools could choose to "buy into" or not.
It was close to a return of grant-maintained schools - the centrally-funded "opt out" schools introduced by the Conservatives and abolished under Labour.
Worries over local need
The Local Government Association's education chairman, Graham Lane, said he welcomed the principle and agreed there needed to be a debate on future funding.
"But the devil may be in the detail," he said.
He is worried that the result might be a national funding formula which did not take account of local need.
"To fund schools in Knowsley the same as you do in West Sussex would not be very helpful to raising standards in Knowsley," he said.
Dave Wilcox, the LGA's education finance chairman, said LEAs currently raised around £500m each year for schools on top of their annual budgets set by Whitehall.
He said Mr Blunkett's proposal "will depend on whether the government puts in that £500m itself."
Theresa May, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: "Heads want all their budgets and the power to spend it, not just a promise of consultation.
"It is the Conservatives that will give all schools their budgets directly, all of their budgets, not just some of it, as Mr. Blunkett proposes.
"It is the Conservatives who will set schools free from Whitehall control. David Blunkett is increasing it."
Cutting red tape
Mr Blunkett also proposed a streamlining of the Standards Fund - which gives extra money to schools and LEAs which make successful bids.
The types of grants available would go down from 44 to just six broad categories. And schools which did get the money would be able to carry it over from one financial year to the next, instead of the present "use it or lose it" system.
And he gave a guarantee that the documents his department sends to schools will be cut by one third in the next school year.
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