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The BBC's Rory Maclean
"The government seems to be moving away from direct funding for schools"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Fairer school funding promised
children using crayons
Schools vary in the resources their pupils get
The complicated funding system for schools - which has often been accused of unfairness - is to be replaced by a simpler and more "transparent" process.

Introducing the government's consultation document on reforming local government funding in England, Education Minister Baroness Blackstone said the aim was to create a fairer distribution system for schools and to reduce the current "disparities" in funding levels between local authorities.

School funding proposals
Setting a minimum funding level for every pupil
Additional funds for deprivation and high staff costs
Councils retain distribution of funding to individual schools
Current council education funding 21.5bn
Councils required to pass 90% of education budget to schools
Councils required to be 'transparent' over school funding
Councils able to borrow for capital projects
There will be no authorities which will be worse off as a result of the reforms, she promised, but could not say how much the ambitious "levelling up" programme would cost to introduce in three years time.

The reforms suggest a minimum level of funding per pupil - with additional sums to be allocated to local authorities for factors such as deprivation and extra costs for staffing (such as areas with high property prices).

The rules on how councils can borrow for capital projects are also to be relaxed, which the government says will make it easier to fund school building programmes.

But the consultation paper will be judged by what it does not contain, as much as by what it does - and local authorities will be relieved that the threat to their future place in school funding appears to have been removed.

Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Blackstone says no local authority will lose education funding in the shake-up
There had been much speculation that the government was considering passing a large proportion of education spending directly to schools and by-passing local authorities - but this no longer seems to be under consideration.

Instead the consultation paper proposes a tightening of existing measures to require councils to pass as much as possible of education funding to schools - with a proposed new minimum of 90%.

But there will still be an important role for local education authorities - as it will remain their responsibility to share out the education budget between individual schools.

This means that the single national funding formula, sought by head teachers, will not be put in place - although the setting of a minimum "entitlement" for each pupil will be seen as a step towards it.

crisp collection box
Many schools supplement funds by collecting crisp packets

"It's not possible to determine the individual funding for 24,000 schools from Whitehall," said Baroness Blackstone

The Schools Minister, Jacqui Smith, said that the government wanted to "lift the fog from school funding" and that the "current system creates disparities in funding across the country that cannot continue".

This will mean the end of the complexities of the standard spending assessments, which it has been claimed has produced wide differences in school funding.

Last month, head teachers' leaders attacked a "farcical" system in which secondary schools' funding per pupil ranged from 1,862 in Northumberland to 3,626 in Kensington and Chelsea.

In an attempt to create a fairer system, the government suggests that as well as a simpler way of calculating pupil funding, that there should be greater transparency in how budgets are allocated and spent.

Councils would be obliged to give their electors a full account of the money delivered to schools, with an indication of how much had come from the centre and how much had been raised locally.

Ministers hope this would make everything clearer and put pressure on councils to pass on the full amount intended for schools.

They believe it would also make it more likely that many education authorities would continue to add their own money to that coming from central government.

The paper threatens the imposition of a legal requirement on authorities to pass on funding to their schools if this greater "transparency" does not work.

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | Education
Direct funding for schools
31 May 00 | Unions 2000
Heads complain of funding unfairness
23 Mar 00 | Education
How schools get their money
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