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Fighting for equal funding;Governors

As governors discuss protest resignations, Anat Arkin looks at the nationwide response to cash shortages

Governors in Worcestershire are threatening to resign over the poor funding of the county's schools which they say leaves them unable to do their job. At the inaugural meeting of the Worcestershire Governors' Steering Committee last week both individual resignations and a co-ordinated campaign of mass resignations were discussed.

Some governors also suggested that schools should set illegal budgets to protest about a funding system which, they say, has left the county substantially worse off than its neighbours. The steering committee is now consulting governors across the county about how to pursue the fight for better funding from central Government.

Neil Beaumont, who chairs the committee, voices the anger of many local parents and governors when he asks why his child, who goes to a first school in Bromsgrove, should be worth around pound;200 less than a child at a similar school in, say, Hertfordshire.

"I think that is obscenely unfair and it doesn't seem to me that anybody can actually explain the reason for it," he says.

Total spending on education in England, bolstered by the pound;835 million of extra money announced in last July's Budget, is due to rise by 5.7 per cent in the coming financial year. But in Worcestershire, a new authority formed when Hereford and Worcester split, the education budget will go up by just 4 per cent: pound;3m less than average.

Worcestshire's standard spending assessment (SSA) - which determines how much councils can spend - appears to reflect what the old council used to spend rather than current needs. As a result, some schools will now almost certainly have to make teachers and other staff redundant. Governors blame this on the arcane workings of the local government funding system rather than their own council, which they say, has done all it can to protect schools.

"We applaud the new authority for ring-fencing education and believe all the money that was due to education has come to education," says Mr Beaumont. But in other parts of the country governors' associations are complaining that local authorities are not passing their full share of the pound;835m windfall to schools.

The National Governors' Association recently sent out questionnaires to all its affiliated governors' associations to gauge the extent of this problem. Early returns suggest that a sizeable minority of councils are diverting some of the cash to other services, even though the Education Secretary David Blunkett has made it clear that it is intended to help schools raise standards.

Most of the authorities that are finding it difficult to pass money on to schools are in the shire counties, which do not receive the area cost adjustment that tends to favour London and the South-east. They include Suffolk, where school governors had expected a rise of pound;12.6m (5.7 per cent) in spending but were disappointed when the authority allowed an increase of only pound;10.76m.

They were even more disappointed when Suffolk County Council decided to put just pound;8.14 million of the additional money, rather than the whole pound;10.76m, into schools.

"There's not huge anger but people are indignant," says Michael Banham, chairman of the Suffolk Governors' Association, which is finding it difficult to protest too loudly because schools in the county have been relatively well-funded in recent years.

In Northamptonshire, on the other hand, the local governors' association has no qualms about criticising the county council. Jack Morrish, chairman of the Association of Northamptonshire School Governing Bodies and former vice-chairman of the National Governors' Council, claims that only pound;11.3m of the county's pound;13.85m share of extra money for education is going to be used for the benefit of schools. The rest, he says, is going towards capital financing and various services which in the past have had to draw on council reserves.

A co-opted member of the council's education committee, Mr Morrish concluded this after comparing expenditure for each council service, including education, against the standard spending assessment.

"The ones that are being bolstered by balances are those that are spending highest above their SSA," he says.

"Two years ago Northamptonshire was spending 3.8 per cent above its SSA for education. In the current year that went down to about 1 per cent and for next year it will be at SSA. So it's not education that's been bolstered by balances."

The council, however, insists that all the money is being used for the benefit of schools. Pointing out that in the past Northamptonshire had done very badly in local government settlements, Linda Charker, assistant director of education with responsibility for finance, says: "We would have had to cut expenditure by about pound;2m for education this year if we hadn't had additional monies because we used pound;2m to support the budget last year."

Last autumn, when the county council asked schools if they wanted all the extra money added to their budgets - with resulting cuts to support services - the answer was "a resounding no", according to Linda Charker.

The National Governors' council has no objection to authorities using some of the money to fund essential support services such as educational psychologists. But speaking as a member of the NGC's executive committee, Mr Morrish argues that money intended for schools should benefit schools.

"If that creates problems for other services, they must solve them by taking money out of balances or by making cuts, because if education had not received the extra money, it would have been in the same boat."


Figures released last week show

* Spending has fallen in real terms since 1994

* Average spent per primary pupil fell by pound;44

* The average for secondary pupils fell by pound;110

* Counties averaged the worst primary cuts (pound;62)

* Cities suffered the worst secondary cuts (pound;126)

* Primary was protected at the expense of secondary

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