The councils who rob you of funds

Wandsworth, which poached pound;10m from its schools, leads list of offenders, writes William Stewart

Schools in more than a quarter of English local authorities have lost out this year because councils are spending below government-recommended levels, according to the largest heads' union.

A survey by the National Association of Head Teachers also shows that the expected increased funding for primaries compared to secondaries to cover the costs of the workforce agreement has not materialised.

The analysis of local authority budgets found that 33 councils did spend the amount expected by the Government in 200506, as calculated through the school formula on which spending is based.

Wandsworth in south London had the highest shortfall with a school budget worth only 93 per cent of the recommended amount, an underspend of around pound;10 million. Two London boroughs came next with Bromley at 94 per cent, or around pound;11m, followed by Brent (95 per cent or pound;9m).

The figures have added significance as they will be used to set the new ring-fenced direct schools grant being introduced as part of a new funding system from 200607. The Government will top up the new grant to compensate for underspends but only by a quarter of their percentage shortfall each year. Mick Brookes, NAHT general secretary, said: "It is important to recognise that in not passing on their full share this year these authorities have disadvantaged their schools for at least the next two years."

George Phipson, the association's funding consultant, said the authorities deserved to be pilloried. He identified a further nine authorities where schools were unlikely to have received the full amount recommended. But in these cases it was because the Government had capped their spending at lower levels as part of an exercise to redress the so-called 'funding crisis". They were Ealing, Kingston-upon-Thames, Tower Hamlets, Birmingham, Bolton, Dudley, Oldham, Sandwell and Walsall.

The survey also showed that 88 English authorities had spent more than their recommended amount on schools.

Top of the list was Bristol at 110 per cent, followed by Camden, north London on 109 per cent and Rutland on 108 per cent. On average budgets across England were 101 per cent of the expected levels.

The survey reveals huge differences in funding schools. Tower Hamlets is top for both primary and secondary schools with pound;3,867 and pound;4,959 per pupil respectively.

Lincolnshire is lowest for primaries at pound;2,297 per pupil and Northumberland for secondaries at pound;2,965. Jim Wright, Northumberland's executive member for children's services blamed central government.

Mr Brookes said the inequity led to larger class sizes, greater workload for leadership teams and reduced spending on books and equipment.

In 200405 ministers gave primaries a 5 per cent guaranteed per-pupil funding rise, compared to secondaries' 4 per cent, to reflect the expense of bringing in planning preparation and assessment time for teachers.

But the survey shows that on average secondaries got 102 per cent of their recommended share compared to 101 per cent for primaries. In other words if local authorities had extra funds they still decided to favour secondaries.

A Wandsworth council spokesman said the reason for its under-spend went back to 1994 when the authority was threatened with council tax capping, but it still achieved record GCSE results. Bromley Council said it had passed its full increase on to schools for the past two years. Brent Council said although it had historically spent below the recommended amount, in the past two years its schools had received 8 per cent funding increases and were very successful.


Where's our money?

The under-spending authorities are Wandsworth, Bromley, Brent, Knowsley, Islington, Greenwich, Slough, Wokingham, Lambeth, Hackney, Westminster, Redbridge, Newcastle, Bracknell Forest, Croydon, Leicester City, Bradford, Newham, Wirral, Liverpool, Herefordshire, Waltham Forest, Sheffield, Surrey, Wolverhampton, West Berkshire, Essex, Windsor and Maidenhead, Bedfordshire, Hounslow, Southwark, Kirklees, and Northumberland

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