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Cold comfort on the extra cash front

Diane Hofkins finds that an all-party call for more primary funding has been rejected by the Tories. The Government offered no comfort for primary schools in its response to an all-party Commons committee's call for more funding. The House of Commons Education Select Committee said in its report last summer that primary schools needed more money for staffing flexibility to teach the national curriculum and to provide for the increase in administrative work that followed the introduction of local management of schools.

Any additional funding which became available, either from national or local government, should be distributed disproportionately in favour of primary schools, it said.

However, the Government's response to the Select Committee's call for the disparity between secondary and primary funding to be decreased, published yesterday, makes no mention of extra cash and says the balance of funding between primary and secondary education is a matter for local authorities. It welcomed the evidence that local authorities were beginning to shift expenditure from secondary to the primary sector and noted this shift is reflected in Government spending targets for those LEAs in subsequent years.

"This is the mechanism whereby changing local priorities are most effectively translated into Government funding allocations," says the response.

It declines to take any other new steps to help primary schools and says that the current system allows local circumstances to be taken into account.

The Government's line will outrage local authorities and primary schools, who will argue that their hands are tied by insufficient cash and funding formulas.

The Government also rejects recommendations from the committee for a common pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools. The response says there is "no firm evidence showing a correlation between class size and pupil attainment". But the Government will consider a new primary staffing survey.

The Government's response quotes the 1992 Three Wise Men report on primary education, saying it gave "valuable guidance on approaches to strengthening curriculum expertise in primary schools . . . including the advice that every school should work out its particular combination of teaching and support roles based on an appraisal of pupil needs and the professional strengths of the staff."

The response neglects to mention that the funding disparity between Years 6 and 7 was highlighted by the Three Wise Men report, which said there was "no justification" for it.

It said that funding needed to be reviewed urgently and called for resourcing to allow flexibility in staffing to enable the development of specialist teaching.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The Government's response is deeply disappointing and fails on virtually all counts. It has clearly decided to wash its hands of the primary-secondary disparity issue and to abdicate its responsibilities in this vital area.

"The Government has imposed upon schools the national curriculum but seems totally unwilling to will the means by which those schools can deliver a high quality curriculum in the future.

"The whole of the Government's response is best characterised by the way in which it makes selective use of the report of the Three Wise Men and by the rather disingenuous way it tackles the whole issue of worsening pupil-teacher ratios and class sizes."

The Government response says: "It is not unnatural that teacher numbers have increased at a lower rate than pupil numbers: growth provides opportunities for economies of scale without impairing educational standards which cannot be ignored when public expenditure has to be kept under restraint." It also quotes figures showing that primary non-contact time has risen since 1990.

Sir Malcolm Thornton, chairman of the Select Committee, said the committee wanted a complete review of funding and would return to the subject in other inquiries. "I do think that the Government will eventually have to have a view on this subject. I don't believe that we can any longer leave it to LEAs to address this particular problem."

Professor Robin Alexander of Leeds University, one of the Three Wise Men who wrote the 1992 report, said: "If they have ignored the tremendous weight of evidence in favour of a radical readjustment, then I am profoundly disappointed, because the evidence is so strong now that primary schools are dramatically underfunded for the tasks they now have to perform."

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