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Primaries see full extent of funding gap

Pressure for a fairer share of funding for primary schools is likely to mount in the wake of Audit Commission figures showing that local authorities are spending as much as Pounds 1,500 more per pupil in secondary education than on younger children.

In the main, councils outside London spend Pounds 2,000 per secondary pupil and around Pounds 1,500 on primary pupils. Spending in London is higher - around Pounds 2,000 per primary pupil and about Pounds 2,500 in secondaries.

However, the London borough of Haringey spends Pounds 3,557 per pupil in its secondary schools compared with just over Pounds 2,000 per primary pupil.

Three other London boroughs - Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Hillingdon - also spend between Pounds 1,000 and Pounds 1,500 more per secondary pupil than on primary pupils.

The extra funding in Haringey goes on teachers - the borough has an agreement with the teacher unions that classes in secondary schools will not exceed 27.

The table appears to show that Westminster is the only local authority that spends more on primary pupils than secondary, but the council claims the figures misrepresent the distribution of spending. The borough actually spends more per secondary pupil, but the Audit Commission does not take account of the re-charging that takes place for educating children from outside the borough.(More than half the children in Westminster schools are from other boroughs).

Across the country, councils spend as little as Pounds 1,168 per primary pupil (the London borough of Havering) and as little as Pounds 1,638 for secondary pupils (Brent). The big spenders identified by the Audit Commission are the London boroughs of Lambeth - Pounds 3,415 for secondary pupils and Pounds 2,639 for primary - and Kensington and Chelsea - Pounds 4,000 for secondary pupils and Pounds 2,569 for primary pupils.

However, outside London the differences in spending between local authorities appear to be narrowing. In the metropolitan councils the highest spender on primary education is Newcastle upon Tyne - Pounds 1,698 per pupil - Pounds 350 more per pupil than the Rochdale, lowest spender.

The counties are spending marginally more than the urban areas. Mid Glamorgan is the biggest spender at Pounds 1,877 for primary pupils. Kent is at the bottom at Pounds 1,396.

In the secondary sector, Shropshire tops the league - it spends Pounds 2,996 per pupil, more than Pounds 1,000 more per pupil than Northumberland. The range in the metropolitan areas is narrower. Oldham spends most at Pounds 2,410 per pupil, compared with Doncaster at Pounds 1,937 per pupil.

The spending figures are not, however, any guide to performance. Lambeth and Kensington and Chelsea - both relatively high spenders - have relatively large numbers of surplus places. In Kensington and Chelsea the figure is 13 per cent and in Lambeth 11.9 per cent.

The Government can also claim spending is not related to performance as demonstrated by exam success. Oldham secondaries top the metropolitan boroughs in spending, yet its results are on average poorer than Doncaster's.

The London boroughs spend most and produce results worse than the national average. They would maintain that extra spending is required in areas of greatest disadvantage.

It is mainly Labour-controlled areas that give priority to nursery education, suggesting any national scheme produced by the Government would be of greatest benefit in areas such as West Sussex, Norfolk and Wiltshire.

The London borough of Haringey educates 98 per cent of its three to four-year-olds at at cost of over Pounds 3,000 per child. The council uses the flexibility within the rate support grant settlement to use its allocation for adult education on nursery education.

The cost of nursery education ranges from Pounds 484 per child in South Glamorgan - where 81 per cent of three to four-year-olds are in nursery education - to Pounds 3,552 per child in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

The tables also show that sixth-formers are usually the most expensive pupils. In Haringey and Wandsworth more than Pounds 5,000 is spent on each pupil aged 16 and over. Out of London, the most expensive provision is in Humberside, where Pounds 4,000 is spent on sixth-formers.The cheapest provision is in Bury at just over Pounds 2,000 a pupil.

The councils with the largest proportion of surplus places in secondary schools are Wolverhampton, Hammersmith and Fulham and Wandsworth. The urban areas tend not to have surplus places in primary schools because of rising school populations.

The tables on spending do not provide any indication of performance by measuring the effectiveness of schools. They do show that councils can choose their priorities in the way they distribute the education budget.

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