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Heads win pledge on budget probe

The Education Minister plans to hold talks with local authorities to investigate complaints from headteachers that schools are not being funded fairly.

A survey by the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, reported in The TES Scotland of March 4, revealed that secondary schools with similar rolls in similar circumstances are allocated wildly differing budgets - amounting to half a million pounds, in one comparison involving two schools. Such a shortfall is the equivalent of 16 full-time teachers.

The HAS cited this as a "major cause for concern", particularly when all schools were expected to meet the same national education priorities.

Peter Peacock has now pledged to look at these complaints. The minister told the association's spring conference last week: "We in the (Scottish) Executive have got a uniform approach for distributing money to councils on an agreed and fair basis.

"If the extra resources we are making available to councils, for support staff for example, are not getting through to all schools, that situation will be addressed. If some local authorities can do it, it's not clear why all local authorities can't do it.

"I will have discussions with Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and I know they, too, are beginning to look for an improvement in what is happening today."

Lindsay Roy, president of the HAS and head of Inverkeithing High, urged Mr Peacock to act quickly. In his conference speech introducing the minister, Mr Roy said: "Continual improvement is rightly part of every school agenda, yet the levels of allocation to schools can differ markedly."

The survey of a cross-section of 11 secondary schools showed that almost half did not receive any direct funding to support one of the Executive's flagship policies on improving discipline.

"There is a vital issue here," Mr Roy commented. "The quality of an individual educational experience can be most readily gauged by the experience of pupils and parents in any school.

"We believe that such resources should reach the intended locations. School leaders are held accountable for what happens in their schools and it is at school level that decisions can best be taken on how to deploy that resource, whether in terms of additional teaching, support staff or computer programs."

Ewan Aitken, education spokesperson for the local authorities, said: "We are aware of criticisms that have been made about some authorities' budget decisions, and it is an issue of concern for myself and my colleagues. I welcome the opportunity to talk with the minister on this issue.

"All of us, employers, policy-makers and education staff, need to be confident that money for education is spent on education, while ensuring each authority is free to shape its own budget priorities."

The HAS is not yet calling for schools to be funded directly by the Executive, bypassing local authorities, but it is demanding a more transparent system.

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