Funding fog still dense

Education funding works in a mysterious way. We have the Government protesting that budgets have been increased by 5.7 per cent or pound;1.3 billion this year. We have councils announcing that ministers have under-funded the teachers' pay award by pound;560 million. And, in between, we have secondary heads, gathering in Bournemouth for their annual conference today, who say that some schools may face real-term cuts and that redundancies loom.

So what is going on? Schools are undoubtedly better funded than they were under the Conservatives. After a slow start, Labour has so far kept its promise to give schools a higher proportion of national income and, as our report this week suggests, there is every sign that it will continue to do so.

But, as initiatives proliferate and pay scales are adjusted to reward the best teachers, it may not be enough. Councils may, or may not, choose to make up the shortfall in the pay award funding. So, while the average increase is 5.7 per cent, there are wide variations in schools' financial fortunes.

Add to this the effect of a bewildering array of funding streams and incentives and the reasons why some primary and secondary schools are on the breadline in an age of comparative affluence are plain. Those in Excellence in Cities areas are sitting comfortably on the fruits of an initiative that Downing Street loves while some of their neighbours struggle to make ends meet. Schools with a higher-than-average number of bright, young teachers who will qualify for pay rises of between pound;3,000 and pound;4,000 under another new Government scheme, which allows them to progress more quickly up the salary ladder, have been hit particularly hard.

All these disparities are compounded (see this week's Briefing) by the vagaries of a funding system which means that a 1,000-pupil secondary in Gloucestershire receives pound;409,000 less than one in Dorset. Ministers have been tinkering with proposals to make funding fairer for nearly five years. Changes are due to be introduced next year. If they fail to materialise, schools will want to know why.

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