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School cash 'sidesteps politics'

As local politicians begin battling for control of more than half of England's education authorities, new research shows a council's political hue has virtually no impact on levels of school funding.

Academics at London university's institute of education analysed budget returns from around 3,000 secondary schools in England.

Their study eliminated funding factors beyond local authority control, such as central government formulae, school size and numbers of special-needs pupils.

And it concluded that between 1998 and 2002 the average comprehensive, not getting cash from schemes such as Excellence in Cities, received an average of pound;2,106.46 per pupil a year under a Liberal Democrat council, Pounds 2,101.85 under Labour, pound;2,099.57 under a hung council, and Pounds 2,085.65 under the Tories.

Malcolm Grimston, Conservative group education leader for the Association of London Government, was unconcerned about his party's bottom placing.

"I am sceptical about the idea that as long as you are spending a lot of money on public services you are doing a good job," he said.

The Conservatives are the largest party in local government in England and want to keep David Cameron's bandwagon rolling by extending their largely rural powerbase with inner-city gains. Mr Grimston is optimistic and said he believed Labour's vote was "very, very soft".

But education might not be a major factor. "The local angle on education is disappearing now that government is controlling things so much from the centre," he said.

The Liberal Democrats, keen to capitalise on their position as the only Parliamentary party opposing the Government's controversial trust school plans, hope that is not the case. Howard Sykes, chief executive of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, said there had been a lot of local media coverage on the bill and was confident it would be an issue.

"If people have kids coming up to secondary school age, they are likely to be worried about the effect it will have on admissions," he said.

Tony Lewis, Labour's deputy chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, doubted whether the "minutiae" of trust schools would interest voters, but is resigned to an electoral kicking.

"People have said in the past few days when I have been knocking on doors 'We don't like what the national government is doing, so we won't be voting Labour'," he said.

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