COUNCILS have been told this week to pass on even more money to schools - by cutting back the average amount they spend on red tape.
The crackdown - to come into force next year - signals ministers' intention to put more money directly into the hands of heads and governors.
All councils in England will be affected by the new ruling which cuts spending on central administration by pound;5 to pound;70 per pupil in London and pound;60 elsewhere.
Ten per cent of authorities currently exceed the new limits. They are Hartlepool, Windsor and Maidenhead, Bracknell Forest, Haringey, Harrow, Lambeth, Redbridge, Somerset, East Sussex, Portsmouth, Northumberland, Knowsley, Islington, Newcastle and Wandsworth.
The move follows the announcement by David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, earlier this month that the Government was examining ways of separating budgets for schools and councils.
A green paper revamping local government finance, and spelling out details for school funding, is expected this summer.
In the meantime, Mr Blunkett acknowledged that all but one of the 150 English education authorities had hit government-imposed levels of delegation to schools this year.
Cornwall found itself bottom of the table after falling just 0.2 per cent foul of a government edict that councils delegate 80 per cent of the education budget to schools. Top of the table was Southend-on-Sea which delegated 89.8 per cent.
Yet earlier in the week, Cornwall found itself praised by the Office for Standards in Education as a well-run local authority with high-performing schools.
Questions asked in the House of Commons also showed that the amount of money spent by Cornwall last year on education was higher than the government considered necessary.
Southend-on-Sea, meanwhile, was awaiting its OFSTED report. Figures presented to Parliament showed that it spent slightly abve the level set by the Government.
All councils must delegate 85 per cent of the education budget to schools from next April - 49 already do so - and many will reach 90 per cent.
After the next general election there will be "a further tough minimum requirement".
But, asked Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers: "How many schools want extra delegation?
Ministers now plan to publish a purchasing guide for schools in the autumn and to pilot brokerage arrangements under which they can use an agent to shop around for services currently provided by authorities.
Mr Blunkett said that, nationally, the amount of delegated funding per pupil had gone up this year by 9.8 per cent or more than pound;210. Overall the proportion of the budget going directly into schools had risen from 82.4 per cent to 84.2 per cent - worth an additional pound;385 million.
"This year's increase brings to about pound;1 billion the amount of increased delegation since 1997," he added.
Tables in detail, page 22 IN THE GOOD BOOKS:
Councils which delegated at least 85 per cent of the education budget to schools, 5 per cent above this year's minimum, are:
Hammersmith and Fulham
City of Bristol
North East Lincolnshire
Redcar and Cleveland
Newcastle upon Tyne