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Funding lottery persists

Schools in some parts of the country get an astonishing pound;600 a year per pupil less than others, reports Jon Slater

A postcode lottery is leaving some schools with up to pound;600 per pupil less than the Government says they should receive, The TES can reveal.

Wide variations in how councils allocate money to primary and secondary schools mean that primaries in some areas struggle to make ends meet while secondaries up the road have more than the Government says they need. The situation is reversed in other areas. A National Association of Head Teachers' analysis also reveals that the difference in funding for primary and secondaries is more than three times greater in some authorities than in others.

Primaries do worst in the London boroughs of Brent and Islington, and in Oldham, where they receive more than pound;200 less than the Government says they should. Secondaries suffer most in Wandsworth, south London (a shortfall of pound;596) and Hackney in east London (pound;508).

Until recently, funding rules allowed local authorities to use government spending figures as a guideline, setting their own education budgets and allocating that money between primary and secondary as they saw fit.

But since last year's funding crisis minimum budgets are set and authorities' room for manoeuvre is limited by guaranteeing all schools a minimum per-pupil increase.

But David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said the figures show "enormous discrepancies" in funding remain.

"I am optimistic that next year's pay deal and increased spending will improve schools' budgets but unless we iron out these discrepancies we will always have schools that are underfunded. We need a national, curriculum-led funding system."

The analysis covers 2004-5 and is based on forms submitted by local authorities to central government.

Although councils' total spending on education is higher than the Government recommends, some spend less and many choose to prioritise primary over secondary or vice versa.

Secondaries receive more money in all areas but in North Yorkshire, the gap between primary and secondary is pound;1,287 per pupil, while in Blackpool it is just pound;402. Secondaries are also slightly more likely to get more than the Government says they should.

In Lincolnshire, which spends less than the Government says it should on schools, secondaries receive more than pound;150 more per pupil than they should but the price is paid by primaries who lose almost pound;200 per head.

Allan Crease, assistant director of Lincolnshire education authority, said the analysis did not give a complete picture because it could not include money not yet delegated to schools. "We are reviewing how much money we allocate to different key stages and we believe it is similar to neighbouring authorities," he said.

London authorities are most likely to underspend on schools.

The analysis also suggests that most authorities are spending more than recommended on administration, with some paying out up to five times as much as others per pupil.

Until last year councils were allowed to spend only pound;55 per pupil on administration or pound;65 in London. The figures suggest that around half the authorities now spend more than this.

The highest spender on admin was Southwark which spent pound;133 per pupil - more than five times Thurrock's pound;26. The average spent on administration across England was pound;59, and pound;68 in London.

But the analysis pointed out that even in lower-spending authorities, including Thurrock, the calculations for "statutory and regulatory administrative duties" vary from council to council, making comparisons tricky.

A spokeswoman for Southwark council described its high figure as a "presentation issue".

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