New analysis shows huge variations in how schools in the same circumstances spend their money.
The report, written for the Department for Education by academics from the University of London's Institute of Education, University College London and the University of Bristol, found that teaching expenditure varies by around #163;1,000 per pupil. While 70 per cent of this variation can be explained by the characteristics of the school, such as the demographics of the intake, 30 per cent cannot.
The report points out that although schools face many limitations in their freedom to make independent financial decisions, in the areas where these freedoms exist, equivalent schools made very different decisions. Some chose to have a greater number of senior positions, while others opted for more support staff.
The report, which analyses changes between 2008-09 and 2009-10, concludes that perhaps the most likely explanation for these variations in spending decisions is the lack of incentive to get them "right". Leadership teams, the authors argue, are focused on pupil achievement - and there is only a weak link between schools' expenditure and pupils' attainment.
The authors add that while financial mismanagement is a serious issue, spending three times as much as a comparative school on support staff is not. They write: "The simplest answer to the question, 'How can we improve schools' financial decisions?' is: 'Make them matter'."
Annual expenditure by schools in england in 2009-10 - #163;30bn.