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Schools to get purse strings and pound;600m

Headteachers have won the right to greater control of their own finances and a massive switch of an estimated pound;600million from local authority bank balances to school budgets.

Under new arrangements for local management of schools to be announced today by school standards minister Stephen Byers, funding for local education authority schools will be brought into line with grant-maintained schools.

A consultation document will propose delegating to schools the cash to fund school meals, inspection and advisory services and school library services.

They will also, for the first time, be guaranteed their own bank statements and cheque books - until now a privilege only enjoyed by GM schools and schools in a few local authorities. They will earn interest on balances.

Local education authorities will be left with school transport, special educational needs, and school effectiveness - but the latter will have to be costed in detail in the new education development plans which LEAs must now draw up.

After speaking to Mr Byers, Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said that the Government was committed to full consultation on the proposals, which he welcomed. He added: "The consultation document is going to have a series of options making absolutely clear where services could be. It is very clear they want local authorities to have the resources at the centre to raise school standards. We have got to argue about the amount (of resources), how it's done and where accountability lies."

Mr Byers was due to launch the consultation at the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, which had demanded more control over school finances for its members, at least in areas relating directly to teaching. But many primary heads will not welcome their extra responsibilities.

David Mallen, chairman of the Association of Chief Education Officers, also warned that some schools would prefer education authorities to keep some of their current responsibilities.

"There are some particular bits of our budget which most schools would prefer not to be delegated because it would cause huge problems for particular schools - buildings maintenance is one example - or could lead to the collapse of entire services, such as the school library service. I hope the Government will be open to people's views on that," he said.

Ministers have promised that library and music services will be protected if a majority of heads say they wish them to stay with the local authority.

GM schools will be pleased with the proposals, which mean their budgets will be largely protected when they move to foundation status next year, back under the wing of local authorities.

Heads may have doubts over taking on school meals, especially as the School Standards and Framework Bill puts a legal requirement on the nutritional value of dinners. Schools will be able to buy back meals - and other services - from their LEA. But if too few do so it is certain to mean the dissolution of some council services.

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