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Councils set to lose control of Pounds 600m

Local authorities * will have to delegate 95% of school spending * may get new powers to intervene in poorly performing schools

Local authorities are to be forced to delegate an extra Pounds 600 million to schools - giving them Pounds 90 per pupil more than they currently receive and a new responsibility for school meals. Ministers want to redefine the potential schools budget - the pot of money from which councils set individual school budgets - and to increase levels of delegation from 85 per cent to 95 per cent.

This would require primary and secondary legislation and almost certainly would not be possible before a general election. If legislation is approved by the end of the 199798 Parliamentary session, the new requirements would apply two years later.

The White Paper calls for spending on school meals, milk and LEA initiatives such as curriculum development to be brought within the potential schools budget (PSB). But ministers want spending on children with statements of special need to be taken out of the total to ensure that their needs are still met.

Spending on capital, educational pyschology and welfare, pupil support for clothing and shoes and post-16 maintenance grants will remain outside the PSB. The Government has said it wants schools to have as much freedom as possible. However, it has refused to cave in to the long-term bugbear of schools and to rewrite the rules for local management on paying average rather than actual teacher salaries.

Budgets will continue to be based primarily on pupil numbers and the new 95 per cent level of delegation will apply to both primary and secondary schools.

Ministers do not propose to change local management arrangements for special schools.

Roy Pryke, chairman of the Standing Conference of Chief Education Officers, said: "There is little evidence that schools want more delegation of finance, . They know it brings responsibilities they consider are better handled by the LEA. Moving to 95 per cent delegation is likely to threaten services like support for music and to require schools to take landlords' responsibility for building maintenance."

And Andrew Collier, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said: "Every school has the chance now, subject to parental ballot, of 100 per cent independence through the grant-maintained option. The vast majority of schools and parents have rejected that option."

While it is obvious that ministers want to limit the powers of local authorities, the Government believes there is still a "significant" role for them in organising education outside schools, planning supply of school places (often now in conjunction with the Funding Agency for Schools), allocating and monitoring budgets, promoting quality, supplying support services and co-ordinating good practice.

That role comes at a price - inspection by the Office for Standards in Education of LEAs' monitoring, support and school improvement functions.

The SCCEO, along with the SEO, is developing a framework for LEAs to use in reviewing their performance. A meeting with chief inspector Chris Woodhead was scheduled for today.

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