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Funding lottery undermines the ethos behind comprehensives

CHRIS Woodhead has joined those worrying about school funding, writes John Howson.

Under the present formula, similar types of school can receive differing amounts of cash per pupil. This, he suggests in his annual report, creates "unacceptably wide variations in the income schools receive".

Even allowing for extras, such as cash for the London allowance to staff, the fact that some secondaries can somehow receive twice as much per pupil as apparently entirely similar schools must affect their performance and, at least, their morale in some way.

It also challenges the principles of true comprehensivism.

The present funding system is the outcome of a century of political decision-making that has led to a complex allocation process.

At one level, we have John

Prescott's Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions setting standard spelling assessments as part of lcal government funding, and councils then going ahead and generating their own local funding formulas for schools.

These policies seem to favour both the largest and the smallest schools as the former can spread their overheads across more pupils, while the smallest schools often receive of necessary protection in the local formula.

The debate on future funding methods for schools has moved on from the simplistic notion of LEAs being seen as "villains", holding pots of cash meant for schools, to a search for a new mechanism whereby all schools can receive a fair share of all the available monies.

However, any new national system will need to reward the losers without simultaneously cutting funds to those who are the winners under the present system. This will be no easy task.

John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University. E-mail:

Int.edu@lineone.net

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