CHARLES Clarke left the Secondary Heads Association conference last week acting like a bear with a sore head.
The Education Secretary had spent the afternoon being harangued by heads angry at what they said was the worst budget settlement in 12 years.
But Mr Clarke is unconvinced. He pledged to look into the situation - but he believes schools are getting more money than ever.
The previous day, in a less emollient mood, he had told the Association of Chief Education Officers that simply throwing more money at them would not solve their problems and that such a request "just floods straight over my head".
"I don't listen to what you say quite frankly," he said.
Speaking to SHA members in Birmingham he said he was shocked by their claims. Funding per secondary pupil had gone up every year since Labour took office and would go on rising, he said.
But Anne Welsh, SHA vice-president, retorted: "With respect, sir, I believe that you underestimate the extent of the circumstances now facing many schools in terms of their funding. We may be more polite than NUT conference members but make no mistake, sir, our members are dismayed and angry."
Chancellor Gordon Brown had spoken of the "biggest sustained increase in education spending for a generation" when he announced an extra pound;12.8 billion over three years last summer. So where has it all gone? Following the money trail from Government and local authorities to schools is not easy. SHA has identified 66 ways schools can get funding (see box, above).
Some are blaming government reforms of the system. Direct grants, previously ring-fenced for areas such as school improvement and performance pay, have now been subsumed into the general funding that comes through local education authorities. The fear is that, along the way, money has gone astray (see boxes, right).
The Department for Education and Skills and teachers' employers blame schools. The problem, they say, is that that heads spent extra money on more staff. This means that they were hit hard by rises in national insurance and pensions.
George Phipson, National Association of Head Teachers' funding consultant, said the switch of much standards funding had also caught schools on the hop, as many heads raided it to finance their main activities. He also said that reforms might mean schools lost funding for one purpose and got it for another: "If your class-size money stops and you have a leadership grant instead, it creates problems."
Some authorities have lost out through changes in the local government funding formula. Heads say the extra pound;28 million for schools in the 36 hardest-hit LEAs is not enough to avoid redundancies.
The Local Government Association estimates schools in as many as 30 LEAs are warning of job losses. But not all schools have lost out. The budget of David Scott, head of Calder high school, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire has risen by around 15 per cent. This includes specialist and beacon status money. However David Hart, NAHT general secretary, has described the situation in other areas as an "unmanageable crisis".
Of course heads may be being gloomy too soon. They have yet to receive their final 200304 budgets. They may take heart from the prediction of John Dunford, SHA general secretary that there will be a good deal more cash to come in the following two years.
* TOP state secondaries face budget cuts of up to pound;300,000 next year, according to a Tory party survey.
Cuts at the top 25 secondaries range from pound;60,000 to pound;300,000, according to education spokesman Damian Green. Writing in today's TES, he says:"For all the extra money taken from taxpayers ... the reality ... is of schools trying to make cuts as painlessly as possible."
Platform, 27; FE Focus, 41
The SHA identified 66 sources of funding for schools. Schools will not be eligible for them all. These include:
* Local education authority
* School Standards Grant (the so-called "cheque from the Chancellor")
* Standards Fund - includes cash for specialist status, drug education, golden hellos for staff in shortage subjects, advanced skills staff, special needs, teacher sabbaticals
* Single Regeneration Budget
* New Opportunities Fund (out-of-hours school learning, Healthy Living Centres)
* Sport England
* Regional Arts Boards
* European sources (eg Socrates scheme)
* Healthy schools scheme