A senior source told The TES that schools would have to work the system to get as much of existing funds as they could.
The Department for Education and Skills was in the middle of negotiating a three-year spending settlement with the Treasury but ministers had moved out of the culture of lobbying the Chancellor for more cash.
Gordon Brown gave the conference a mixed message on public spending. He promised further increases in the next three-year spending period, which is due to begin in 2005. But he warned delegates that wide-ranging efficiency improvements, a rigorous focus on priorities and cuts in central bureaucracy would be needed to achieve it.
The DfES has told the School Teachers' Review Body that it wants to move from an annual to a three-year teachers' pay settlement.
This and earlier announcement of school budget allocations would provide greater stability, said the source. It would remove the uncertainty that has led schools to hoard money in reserve. The review body has been told to publish its report by next month.
At a conference fringe meeting, David Miliband, school standards minister, acknowledged that it had been a difficult year for school finance. But he said: "I have not got a wad of cash in my back pocket that I am not giving out to schools."
Mr Miliband expected a number of policies - including the leadership incentive grant, changes at key stage 3 and partnerships built by the workload agreement - to have an impact next year.
But his plea for positivity received an immediate knockback when Sid Willcocks, head of Epiphany primary in Bournemouth, told the meeting, organised by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, about his funding problems.
He had gone from a surplus of pound;20,000 to a deficit of pound;120,000 in the past year and had to lose one teaching and two support staff posts because of the budget difficulties his school faced.
Mr Willcocks said his funding problems could not be explained by falling rolls. "I don't want jam tomorrow, I want bread today," he told Mr Miliband.
David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said the budget settlement schools received for the next financial year would be critical. Proper funding was needed to implement the workload agreement and meet the wider demands Government was placing on schools such as improving pupil behaviour.