Pay the cash out to schools, or pay it back

David Scott

Councils will have cash clawed back by the Scottish Executive if there are signs they are failing to allocate resources given to finance extra support staff in schools, it emerged this week.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, stepped up the pressure on local authorities following the hint he dropped last week, as reported in The TES Scotland.

This week's disclosure, which will place councils under increasing pressure to ensure that money gets through to schools, came when Mr Peacock addressed a conference in Edinburgh on bullying and behavioural management.

Current practice across Scotland was "variable", he said.

"I know from my visits to schools and my discussions with headteachers and teacher representatives that schools have markedly different levels of support available to them," Mr Peacock said.

He added: "I can tell you I am taking a very close look at how the extra cash we have been giving to local authorities for support staff is, or is not, getting through to school level. The money needs to get through.

"Headteachers need to ask questions of their local authorities and teachers ask questions of their schools if they don't have access to the resources or modern techniques to improve behaviour that others are getting.

"And I stand ready to take further action to ensure the resources get through to schools if that cannot be guaranteed voluntarily."

The Executive said later that it intends to require councils to show how they have spent their share of Government cash intended for schools, such as the pound;35 million allocated for 1,000 support staff whose task includes working with children who have behavioural and social difficulties.

An Executive source said "outcome agreements" would provide feedback from councils on how money was being spent.

Ministers would be able to recoup cash if there was evidence it was not being spent properly. "It is a toughening up of the existing approach," the source said.

The action follows concern sparked by a survey by the Headteachers'

Association of Scotland in which a sample of 11 secondary schools showed significant variations in funding, in some cases running to half a million pounds.

The amount spent on discipline - a ministerial priority - ranged from Pounds 31.29 to pound;2.12 per pupil (the latter for a school with 20-30 per cent of its pupils entitled to free school meals).

Ewan Aitken, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who was one of the main conference speakers, said later that councils needed to be able to decide in their own way how money was spent.

Their reaction would depend on how the outcome agreements were framed. "If the outcome agreements say, 'you must deliver in this way', then that will be a problem," Mr Aitken said.

He admitted he had concerns about "one or two of our councils not delivering where they said they would" and added: "That does make life difficult for the rest of us. I will always defend local government because it is constantly and unfairly criticised, but my ability to do that is made more difficult when one or two authorities fail to meet a commitment we have have agreed to collectively."

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