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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK
Councils keep control of school budgets
Town halls are pleased that the government is not intending to take away their control of school funding, as the education secretary had proposed.
But head teachers are worried that new government proposals might mean inequalities between schools in different parts of the country will continue.
David Blunkett told head teachers at a conference in June that he favoured a split between schools' budgets and the money allocated to education authorities for the services they provide, such as transport and providing for special educational needs.
But in its long-delayed consultation document on the future funding of councils in England, the government says this would reduce local accountability.
It is understood that the political argument that it would also be a hostage to fortune for central government to be seen to have direct control of school budgets - without the "buffer" of local education authorities - held sway in Whitehall.
Instead the government is proposing that there should be greater "transparency" in the funding process, so that parents know how much of the money intended for schools is actually passed on to them by the education authorities.
The chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Jeremy Beecham, said they had no objection to that.
"What we would have objected to very strongly was direct funding of all schools from Whitehall. We don't think that Whitehall can run 25,000 schools in that way."
At present the amount education authorities "delegate" to schools varies from 79.8% in Cornwall to 89.8% in Southend.
Ministers believe the proportion can be increased to an average of 85% for next year, 2001/02 - a figure already attained this year by 49 councils - and eventually to 90%.
But this does nothing to remove the biggest complaint from head teachers about the existing system - that schools in different areas get widely different amounts per pupil.
This would involve equal funding per pupil, related to their age, with additional money for special educational needs and social deprivation - and separate funding for local education authorities.
The consultation document from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions acknowledges the strength of feeling on this subject.
One option it presents is similar to that proposed by the head teachers. The Department for Education said this was its preferred option.
The Schools Minister, Jacqui Smith, said the department wanted to remove disparities "by levelling up, not down, the funding schools and authorities receive."
A spokeswoman said this was a very "green" Green Paper - with all options up for discussion and head teachers encouraged to take part.
But the Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, said the Green Paper was "a fudge".
"Labour are still going to hold money back from schools and keep it in the centre," she said.
"David Blunkett promised that schools would have control of their budget. This shows you can't trust what he says - he is all mouth and no delivery."
The SHA's general secretary, John Dunford, said the Green Paper had "a lot of good in it".
"But the way the money is to be distributed by local education authorities is crucial and threatens to continue the funding muddle," he said.
"The government does not appear to want greater transparency, and central and local government will continue to blame each other for shortfalls in school funding.
"The government appears to have stopped short of what David Blunkett had led head teachers to expect."
The general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, Nigel de Gruchy, said the Green Paper was a golden opportunity wasted.
"It dangles the possibility of reform not today but tomorrow.
"It is difficult to see how the system will be simplified and made transparent, which it desperately needs to be.
"It is equally difficult to see how disparities in funding between one council and another are going to be eliminated."
The NAHT's general secretary, David Hart, said he thought the consultation document was a big step in the right direction - "something we can bite on".
It could lead to significant changes to the way schools were funded, he said.
"But there's a long way to go and there will be a lot of water under this particular bridge by then - including a general election."
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