'Bonanza' may not be as generous as it seems

When ministers tell us they are taking overall spending on education from the current pound;45 billion to nearly pound;58bn by 2005-6, every head and governor in the land will want, initially, to leap for joy.

But when it comes down to working out what an individual school will receive, the imponderables come into play and the initial euphoria dims.

There are two main routes for sending funds into schools: the main one is via local councils through the Standard Spending Assessment.

The cash increase for this route will be 6.3 per cent in 2003-4, 0.4 per cent higher than what has already been announced. This amounts to about pound;926 million in a national budget of nearly pound;24bn.

If we assume budget inflation to be around 4 per cent (depending on pay recommendations not yet made by the School Teachers' Review Body) and take into account demographic change, which means more pupils in the more expensive secondary phase, the "bonanza" looks less generous.

How precisely SSA will be distributed next year depends on the outcome of the strange consultation paper on local authority funding issued last week.

The other route for funds is "special grants" which the Government obviously prefers: there is a general uplift in the standards grant and capital grants that go direct to all schools. Nationally an extra pound;325m will be disbursed, the exact sum for each school depending on size. More money will go to some schools: the 300 "advanced" specialists; the 1,400 qualifying for "leadership incentive grants" of pound;125,000; and the 2,000 winning specialist status by 2006, which typically means a pound;500,000 bonus.

Depending on how the balls drop out of the lottery drum, you could be much better off or only slightly less badly off than you are now. The paradox of this week's announcements is that, while one part of the Department for Education and Skills is working to produce a rational and equitable methodology for distributing funding fairly to all schools, another part is working overtime to make schools as differentially funded as possible.

Peter Downes is funding consultant to the Secondary Heads Association

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