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Kent calls for a halt to `costly' delegation

Clare Dean reports that education budgets are not all they appear, as authorities differ in amounts delegated.

Government moves to increase the amount of money that councils have to delegate to schools will receive a lukewarm reception from head teachers in Kent.

The local education authority, near the bottom of the delegation league table, has already asked its schools whether they want more money.

John Rivers, one of the head teachers involved in an investigation into council services, said: "The overriding feeling was that we had enough already. Heads don't want to go any further down the road on devolution and, if they were forced to, would do it with great reluctance."

The study discovered that further delegation would actually push up the cost of services to schools - in some cases, by as much as three times more.

It was revealed that the estimated cost of schools undertaking delegated activities themselves would, on average, be higher than the amount they would receive from delegation of that activity.

Schools said this clearly demonstrated the benefits of the economy of scale offered by the LEA.

Kent is 100th out of the 109 English local education authorities in the percentage it delegates of its potential school budget - the amount of money available to be shared between schools.

Figures from the Department for Education and Employment reveal that it delegates 87.5 per cent. This compares with Dudley, which heads the league table on 95.8 per cent, and the Isles of Scilly, in bottom position on 85.1 per cent. The national average is 90 per cent - but more than half the education authorities in England delegate less than that.

Fifty schools in Kent were involved in a 10-month programme of investigation into services designed to achieve the right balance between non-delegated and delegated funds.

Jan Mitchell, head of Sir William Nottidge school in Whitstable, said: "The aim was to create a common awareness across the LEA-partnership schools I and to assess the implications for the current education support service."

Mr Rivers, head of Rolvenden primary in Tenterden, added: "The feeling from schools, small and large, was that they wanted a fixed core of council services.

"All schools were asked whether they wanted more devolution and everyone said no. In Kent, we view the LEA as our fourth emergency service and that's how we like it."

The only areas where heads felt they could take further delegation were on "peripheries" such as the internal jobs lists, money to advertise posts and such personnel matters as whether to use county hall staff to interview existing staff for deputies.

Roy Pryke, Kent's director of education services, said: "Our schools have come to the view that delegation above 88 per cent without some redefinition of the potential school budget would actually damage vital support services.

"The voices of Kent schools should be heard and they should not be subject to diktat from someone else."

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