Radical funding change blocked

Civil servants ignore advice that current system is 'confused and illogical', report Warwick Mansell and Joe Clancy

HEADTEACHERS fear that primary schools will become education's poor relations following civil servants' decision to block reforms of the way that councils are funded. Department for Education and Skills officials have told ministers not to introduce a new funding formula, specifying a minimum amount of cash per pupil.

The move flies in the face of advice from schools, councils, inspectors and the independent financial watchdog.

This week, the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission said the national system for funding schools and local education authorities was "confused and illogical".They warned in a joint report that the current system was an obstacle to higher standards in schools that was beyond the power of LEAs to address.

Sarah Phillips, Audit Commission assistant director, said: "The system is far too complicated. That complexity hinders the schools that most need help."

Schools have been pressing for the notoriously complex funding system, with its wide disparities across the country, to be changed for more than a decade.

OFSTED and the Audit Commission called for funding allocated to councils to be "adequate for the job they are asked to do".

"That entails a careful analysis of the activities involved and their costs at school and local-authority level," they said.

A government-convened working party, including teachers' and employers'

representatives, had devised a formula which would have calculated how much each council needed to educate each of its pupils..

But civil servants have recommended that the Government largely stick with the current system, which allocates funding on the basis of adjustments to what councils have received in the past.

Ministers are already facing claims that little is being done for councils at the bottom of the financial pile, after a paper in July suggested that they could actually lose out under the changes. Heads and governors from poorly funded Lincolnshire were today petitioning Downing Street to protest that their schools will lose out.

A final decision is expected in late November or early December.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If the Government goes ahead with this it will be doing so in the face of opposition from schools, local authorities and OFSTED. It has to think again."

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