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How many lightbulbs make up the budget?

Some councils are using novel ways to calculate schools' cash entitlement. Karen Thornton reports

A handful of councils are using the number of lightbulbs in schools to help calculate how much cash they should get - but nearly two-thirds do not build workload reforms into the equation. The disparities between different local funding formulae for education were laid bare at last week's National Association of Head Teachers Cymru conference in Ewloe, north Wales.

Official data shows four local authorities include the light bulb measure in their funding formula, two each refer to telephones or refuse, and Anglesey factors in cash for archives. But only eight of Wales's 22 authorities include workload reduction in formulae.

Conference delegates were urged to challenge their LEAs over the differences at local school budget forums, where governors and heads have a chance to influence council spending decisions.

Kathy James, head of the NAHT's education management department, told delegates: "The whole basis of the budget forum is that it looks at the way the money is delivered with a practitioner's eye. They will make decisions that directly affect your budget. There is never going to be enough money, but at least you know how much you are getting and why."

Forum members should also check that their LEA is spending up to "IBA" - the indicator based assessment, or the amount the Assembly government has calculated each council needs for education in their area, she said.

Councils that do not spend up to IBA will have to explain their actions to forums and Jane Davidson, the education, lifelong learning and skills minister.

Government figures showed six authorities spent 1 per cent or more below their IBA last year, and intend to do so again in the current financial year (06-7). For example, spending against IBA was down 2.6 per cent in Monmouthshire in 2005-6, and is expected to be another 4.8 per cent down this year. Torfaen's figures are also down 3.6 and 3.7 per cent respectively, while the north Wales authorities of Anglesey, Gwynedd and Flintshire have also made significant cuts. But Carmarthenshire spent 6.2 per cent above IBA in 2005-6, and expects to spend 5.1 per cent above this year. Cardiff, Neath Port Talbot, and Conwy are also spending significantly above IBA.

Dr Chris Llewelyn, head of education at the Welsh Local Government Association, welcomed open debate about councils' spending. But he said variations in spending between different authorities were inevitable. "To be within 1 per cent of IBA is reasonable. With budgets so big, it's easy to overstate the significance of being 0.5 below or 1 per cent above IBA,"

he said.

"Overall, more money has gone into education than the overall figure for education IBA from the Assembly government."

Ms James also highlighted how cash retained for central services varies between authorities.

But Dr Llewelyn added: "Where there is a funding difference, it is because LEAs are providing different levels of services. For example, if an authority has historically provided a range of services, they will continue to do so."

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