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Parents are drafted into cash battle

Clare Dean reports on the debate raging around the unequal amounts of money that schools receive

TAKE two 10-year-olds. They attend state primaries in neigbouring towns yet one benefits from an education worth pound;1,600 more than the other - simply because they live in different local authorities.

This discrepancy is revealed in an Audit Commission report on school funding, published today, which also shows that secondary spending can vary by as much as pound;1,500 per pupil per year.

Next week parents with children in schools in the 40 worst-funded authorities will be urged to join a nationwide campaign group demanding change.

The group, which represents almost 2.5 million pupils and nearly 9,000 schools, wants to squeeze the gap in the amount of money allocated to the best and worst-funded schools - without hitting London.

Peter Clarke, chair of the group which is backed by 200 MPs from all parties, said: "We struggle desperately as the lowest-funded local authorities to get the best out of the education budget."

Differences in the amount he Government says needs to be spent in primary schools range from pound;4,268 per pupil in the Isles of Scilly to pound;2,189 in South Gloucestershire (see left).

In secondary schools, the gap is even greater. In deprived Lambeth, south London, schools are allocated pound;5,138 per pupil per year, while their counterparts in Rutland are thought only to need pound;2,799.

The group, which includes Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Northumberland, Warwickshire and Warrington, has been fighting for change for four years.

"We believe that education ministers are on our side," said Mr Clarke. "We are hitting a brick wall somewhere else."

The Audit Commission report shows that around two-thirds of schools are funded within pound;200 per pupil of each other. But in a 1,000-pupil school the resulting pound;200,000 difference could mean eight or nine more teachers, or 200 extra computers a year.

It says variations in funding are the result of decisions made by both central and local government which the commission describes as "historical and opaque".

Full report, 24

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