Some local education authorities (LEAs) have been accused of pressuring schools over the way Standards Fund and National Grid for Learning (NGFL) grants should be spent.
Dominic Savage, chief executive of the British Educational Suppliers Association, says a growing number of LEAs are trying to influence the spending of funds they have to delegate to schools. Three-quarters of grants under the Standards Fund are devolved to schools, with this figure rising to 95 per cent for the NGFL.
"Chief education officers will gather together all the head teachers in the authority and say: 'Here's what we propose you should be doing with this grant. We'd like you to spend it with us and we'll provide this and that service.' And before anyone has had the chance to object, they move on to the next subject," Mr Savage explains.
The motive behind these tactics by some authorities is to preserve a large advisory staff, but Mr Savage claims this should no longer be tolerated. "There is no reason to have the level of infrastructure present in a lot of local authorities," he says. "It should be possible for them to buy in expertise as necessary."
A Department for Education and Employment (DFEE) spokesperson says a consultation process this summer on a shorter and clearer code of practice on LEASchool Relations will clarify the roles and accountabilities of local authorities and schools. It will emphasise that LEAs should delegate the maximum funding and responsibility possible to schools, whose prime role is to deliver higher standards. The DFEE dismisses Mr Savage's claims that LEAs were unduly pressuring schools on spending. A spokesperson said any specific example will be investigated.
Graham Lane, of the Local Government Association, says Mr Savage's arguments are "totally wrong". Schools have the power to decide how to run their budgets and whether to buy services from the local authority or other providers.
The BESA chief executive says LEAs still have an important role to play, but adds that spending on ICT for schools highlighted the need for changes to the way LEAs operate. He says some provide equipment and Internet connections that will help to raise pupil achievement, but others are failing to do so. "It's not a question of securing more money," Mr Savage explains, "but of ensuring what we've got is used properly."
Chris Thatcher, president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and chair of its IT committee, shares many of Mr Savage's concerns and agrees that some LEAs are better than others at passing on funding to schools.
Slimming down LEAs "could be the way forward", he says. "I'd be surprised if the Government was not considering a national funding formula and giving more money directly to schools."
However, Graham Lane claims that a national formula for funding would leave many schools financially worse off than they are already.
The NAHT is also concerned about the many different funding sources available for ICT in schools, many of which are too time-consuming to apply for. Chris Thatcher says there is an added complication with some local authorities that could or would not come up with the matching funds required to receive some grants.
Last month, Education Secretary David Blunkett acknowledged that clearer and simpler ways of funding schools were needed. "We will explore the options for funding schools in the Green Paper on local authority funding later this summer," he said.