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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 16:46 GMT
Heads say cuts are costing teachers' jobs
Headteachers have claimed that hundreds of teaching jobs have been lost due to town halls withholding cash.
The problem afflicts former grant-maintained (GM) schools, which were funded directly by an arm of central government under the Conservatives and are now either foundation or voluntary aided schools under the new categories Labour brought in.
Their heads have estimated that they have lost about £30m over the past year, due to being brought back under the control of local authorities to a large extent.
The Local Government Association rejects the charge and accuses some schools of building up large reserves.
The Foundation and Voluntary Aided Schools Association has undertaken a survey of 200 former GM schools.
It says the poll suggests 1,500 jobs have been lost through the change of status, despite the government's new arrangements increasing the amount of cash LEAs must delegate to schools, and schools' greater independence in being able to buy services elsewhere.
The survey showed more than 80% of schools with a budget shortfall, averaging £85,000. One third were expecting to make further staff cuts in the next financial year starting in April.
Many had coped by drawing on reserves but only half expected to be able to do so next year - when three-quarters were expecting to run up more deficits.
Others have only keep going by dint of 'transitional funding' from the Department for Education, which has acknowledged that former GM schools have had a problem.
The association's vice chairman, Laurence Upton, said the survey painted a "depressing picture".
"We always knew GM school funding levels would be hit," he said, "but the scale is truly alarming.
"We estimate that more than £30m has disappeared from school budgets in the last year.
"My association is very concerned that it has gone into LEA bureaucracy rather than front-line services for the benefit of children."
Last year, the government published the first league tables of LEA spending and set tough targets for the amounts passed direct to schools.
The Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions is reviewing local authority finance. The Secondary Heads Association and the Association of Heads of Foundation and Aided Schools are calling on it to propose that all schools to be funded directly.
The Secondary Heads' Association says this would remove the "absurdities" of the present system by which central government allocates money to schools via local education authorities through a long-standing, complex formula.
The money is only intended for schools - councils can choose to switch it to other uses as they see fit, which they argue is a proper effect of local democracy. They also say they spend more on education than they are expected to.
But the result, the headteachers' association says, is widespread anomalies in the amounts per pupil received by individual schools.
It gives Melbourn Village College in Cambridgeshire as an example. If the school were in Hertfordshire, three miles away, it would receive £359,000 more for its 520 pupils.
It wants to see schools getting an allocation related to the needs of their pupils, taking into account differing local levels of deprivation.
Local education authorities would still be able to raise limited local funding for schools, but without the power to switch government funds from education to other local services.
The union's vice president, Richard Fawcett, head of Thurston Community College in Suffolk, said it was common knowledge that the government had "substantial funds".
"Over the next three to four years the current losers could be levelled up without the current winners having to lose funding," he said.
"This is a window of opportunity that the government must not miss."
The Association of Heads of Foundation and Aided Schools calls LEAs an "irrelevant, costly and counter-productive intermediary", and demands their abolition.
"Ending the pretence that LEAs have a strategic role which allows town hall overheads to be met from funding allocated to education would inject up to 5% in extra money to schools at a stroke," it claimed.
The education chairman of the Local Government Association, Graham Lane, said the claim about job losses was "flawed research based on a handful of schools".
He said direct funding would mean £500m less in school budgets, because that was what education authorities spent on education over and above what the government said they should.
LEAs were not holding back money from schools, he said. On the contrary, schools themselves were sitting on unspent reserves of £580m.
Links to other Education stories are at the foot of the page.
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