School spending misses devolution targets

Total local authority expenditure on education reached pound;4.2 billion last year, according to statistics released by the Scottish Executive, writes Neil Munro. This was an 8 per cent rise on 2003-04.

Of this, pound;2.7bn was devolved to headteachers in 2004-05, a 10 per cent increase.

Although ministers routinely claim that 80 per cent of education budgets is devolved to schools, it is not possible to calculate that proportion from these latest statistics - the total pound;4.2bn figure is gross expenditure and includes all income received by councils, from government grants to school meal charges.

The figures also include pre-school and other revenue expenditure. If these were removed, the total spend on primary, secondary and special schools would amount to pound;3.6bn. The pound;2.7bn devolved to schools is therefore around 75 per cent of spending, some way short of the Scottish Executive's 90 per cent target.

The Executive intends issuing guidance to authorities in the next few weeks on what can "reasonably be devolved to headteachers". Some authorities have already reached the 90 per cent target, but there are wide variations.

The Headteachers' Association of Scotland has long been seeking an answer to the question posed by Lindsay Roy, its former president: "Ninety per cent of what?"

Overall, the figures point to the usual picture across Scotland, which underlines the higher costs of educating pupils in remote areas. So the three island councils maintain their position of having education expenditure more than twice the national average: pound;7,375 per primary pupil in the Western Isles is the highest, against the Scottish figure of pound;3,855 per primary pupil. Orkney and Shetland are both more than pound;6,000 per primary pupil.

Shetland's pound;9,852 per secondary pupil compares with the national average of pound;5,428 a head. This also reflects local decisions to save small schools: the two-pupil secondary on the Shetland island of Skerries, for example, accounts for pound;81,116 per pupil.

At the other end of the spectrum, the least money spent on primary schools is by Dumfries and Galloway at pound;3,306 per pupil and by Clackmannanshire on secondary schools at pound;4,746 per pupil (with Dumfries and Galloway a close second on pound;4,783).

Over the first six years of the Parliament's existence, total expenditure on education has risen from pound;2.8bn to pound;4.2bn between 1999 and 2005. Spending per primary pupil has increased from pound;2,255 to pound;3,855, and in secondary from pound;3,409 to pound;5,428 a head.

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