Budget paves way for direct funding

Chancellor's pound;300m windfall for schools sets precedent for the Government to bypass local education authorities.

MORE money may go directly into the hands of headteachers if the Government goes ahead with a plan to separate school and education authority budgets.

The proposal - one of a range of options to be unveiled this summer to shake up funding for schools - follows Gordon Brown's windfall budget for education this year which gave schools one-off grants of up to pound;50,000 each to spend as they wished on raising standards. It also follows widespread calls for a national funding formula to end geographical differences in what shcools receive and will be welcomed by heads and governors.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, is set to tell his annual conference today that the Chancellor has shown how money can be put directly into schools. He is to say: "If the Treasury can deliver pound;300 million, it can deliver pound;20 billion by this route."

Education Secretary David Blunkett was due to tell the conference yesterday that separate budgets would clarify what money was intended for schools. But talk of the end of local authorities was exaggerated, as "if they were not in existence, we would have to invent an alternative structure".

Only the day before, the conference had demanded that local authorities should no longer be allowed to set school funding. John Killeen, head of South Cave primary in Howden in the East Riding of Yorkshire, said he was tired of the lottery of funding. "Give us funding levelled up to the best and then compare our children's performances with anywhere in the world."

Local authorities also clled for a change. The Local Government Association said the Standards Fund was bureaucratic, involving heads applying for cash from 38 different pots. They could spend up to 16 hours a week on applications for projects worth only pound;500.

Other options are three-year funding packages for councils to enable better planning, and better ways of distributing cash from central government. Mr Blunkett also wants to assure the conference that funding changes mean "levelling up, not down".

Ministers also want to streamline the Standards Fund, now supporting pound;1.7 bn of expenditure or 8 per cent of funding for schools, and to cut by one third the number of documents and by a half the volume of paper sent to all schools.

Mr Hart will tell delegates that the high expectations that heads had of a Labour government which had education as its top priority have not been met. He will warn the Government that its comprehensive spending review to be announced next month that "education must not play second fiddle to health".

According to Mr Hart the NAHT will not rest until the vast majority of primary heads are earning between pound;40,000 and pound;50,000 and those in secondaries receiving salaries of pound;60,000 to pound;80,000.

He will urge serious consideration of private-sector solutions for some of the country's worst schools. "People may laugh at pound;100,000 salaries but some schools are no laughing matter. Why not give these particular heads performance-related rolling contracts, with a minimum of three years.

"Why not provide a pay and benefits package which recruits, retains and motivates? Why not a performance bonus at the end?"

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