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Local government chief Graham Lane
"Good news."
 real 28k

Headteacher Phil Grice
"A drop in the ocean but a bigger drop."
 real 28k

banner Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 12:58 GMT
Councils accuse schools of hoarding
girl writing
Schools are planning how to spend their windfall
Councils in England reject suggestions that they "siphon off" money meant for education - and have accused some schools of hoarding money which could be redistributed.

They say they are as pleased as head teachers that the government is channelling 300m of new money direct to schools to spend as they please.

In his Budget on Tuesday the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced an extra 1bn for education across the UK.

There will be separate announcements on Thursday about how this will be spent in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But Mr Brown said 300m of England's lion's share of 837m would go "straight to the head teacher" - bypassing local education authorities (LEAs).

Strictly speaking this is not true: the money will go via LEAs, but it will be "ring-fenced" so they will have to allocate it to their schools without making any deductions or imposing conditions on how it is to be spent.

Higher spending

Head teachers' unions were "delighted" at this new method of funding. They have long complained that they do not necessarily get the money the government intends for them.

But the Local Government Association argues that, overall, authorities actually spend more on education than they are required to, raising the extra from local taxes.

Its education chairman, Graham Lane, said this was not a new method of payment - it was used, for example, for the literacy and numeracy strategies.

Standards Fund money of this sort has to be used for the intended purpose, however. What is completely new in Mr Brown's announcement is that schools can spend the money as they wish.

But Mr Lane said this was "a good story" for all concerned and there should not be the distraction of suggestions that LEAs "siphoned off" money for other purposes - suggestions he suspected were coming from government spin doctors.

Redistribution

"Schools themselves seem incapable in some cases of spending all the money - there's 580m unspent balances at the moment lying around in schools' budgets unspent.

"It's time we got access to that and distributed that to schools that are spending their money."

Mr Lane told BBC News Online the problem had arisen with the introduction of LMS - local management of budgets by schools themselves.

"Some of these teachers think they've got to save money," he said. "It's ridiculous.

"We have been arguing for the powers to claw it back from the schools sitting on balances and give it to schools who spend their money.

"And that would transform the situation, because it is actually bad management."

The National Association of Head Teachers argued that the schools were simply being prudent, he said.

"It's not prudent at all. If we sat on this money and didn't give it to our schools they'd be moaning."

Debt repayment

But most schools could certainly use more. At Ashley Primary in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, the head teacher, Phil Grice, is contemplating putting the extra he will be getting towards paying off a loan for building a new 55,000 classroom, the repayments on which are 9,000 a year.

He was not unduly worried by the idea that Labour's priority - "education, education, education" - has apparently become "health, health, education".

"I think this government have made serious attempts to address funding issues in schools," he said on BBC News 24.

"But they've tended to have their own agenda rather than talking to the schools or giving the schools the flexibility to deal with individual problems.

"I think this money - the 9,000 - will address that issue for us."

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See also:

01 Feb 00 | Education
Pay deal meets mixed reception
11 Mar 00 | Education
Tories attack education 'con trick'
13 Dec 99 | Education
Schools promised 970m for repairs
17 Dec 99 | Education
Universities want an extra 5bn
22 Nov 99 | Education
Funding doubts over performance pay
25 Nov 99 | Education
Heads accuse under-funding councils
Links to other Budget2000 stories are at the foot of the page.


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