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Nothing going on but the budget

Heads' annual conference poised to demand end to 'unfair' funding. Clare Dean reports

FUNDING is set to dominate debate at a headteachers' conference in Jersey next week, with calls for a national formula and an end to the bidding culture.

Almost a quarter of the motions to the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference are about money.

And Mick Brookes, head of Sherwood junior in Nottingham and president-elect, said: "It is quite clear that the funding of education in this country is in a total mess.

"It's not just the way the money is distributed, or the fact that less and less of it is not tied up, but the variations throughout the country."

If his 260-pupil school for seven to 11-year-olds were moved to Hertfordshire with the same teachers and same costs he would get an extra pound;56,000.

Martin Fry, head of Charlton Kings junior in Cheltenham, who is leading the call for a national funding formula, would get at least pound;36,000 more if his school were in Oxfordshire. The benefit would be even greater if his 363-pupil former grant-maintained school switched to Essex.

"The Government calls it fair funding, but it is not," said Mr Fry. "What you get depends on where you live in the country."

The lottery of education funding was exposed in an analysis by the NAHT last year of council budgt plans, which showed that school cash may be allocated on factors as diverse as the number of trees or type of grass in the grounds.

The Government is now reviewing local authority funding and a Green Paper is expected in the summer. A national funding formula for schools is predicted as one of the options.

Heads are determined to get their message across to David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, who will be addressing the conference next Thursday.

Mr Fry had to make redundancies last year, and two of his younger, stressed out teachers will job-share from September to try to escape the welter of paperwork.

Janet Pidgeon, head of Wellington primary in Waltham Forest, London, will have a full complement of staff this September for the first time in three years.

Recruitment was in crisis, said Mrs Pidgeon, president of the Greater London region of the NAHT. "You advertise and get minimal response."

Relying on agency staff brought its own problems, she said, as they often had no background in the national curriculum or literacy and numeracy strategies.

The theme of Mr Brookes' conference address is "respect, responsibility and resources" - his three new Rs for education.

Mr Blunkett will warm to the first two at least. He has pledged a zero tolerance policy on foul and abusive language.

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