Bad housekeepers nowhere in sight

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Sue Knowler is sympathetic to the plight of the local education authority and resigned to the fact her school will have to wait even longer for vital repairs and building work to be done.

Her school, the Oliver Goldsmith primary, in the London borough of Brent, has buildings it has been told should not be used again next winter, while the plaster peels off the walls and pupils are taught in wooden huts.

Like many headteachers she blames restrictions on local authority spending for nationwide funding disparities , rather than any bad housekeeping. Ms Knowler said Brent council had "pruned its bureaucracy till there is little left to prune". But she added: "We have less money than last year for books, equipment and cover for sickness. I don't know what the answer is."

Brent was one of the highest spenders during the 1980s, but now spends less on its primary schools than any other borough in inner London. By contrast, Lambeth spends almost double the amount on primary pupils - Pounds 2,639 compared with Pounds 1,484 - and more than twice as much on secondary pupils, Pounds 3,415 compared with Pounds 1,638.

Sheila Webb, Lambeth's Labour education spokesperson, said that historically the council has seen education as a priority. Only the City of London, which has just one primary school, spends more on its primary pupils.

"We believe our schools have been reasonably generously funded, partly because there are areas and people of great need within the borough. But we have just had to make cuts of Pounds 10 million in education so whether we will maintain our good standing remains to be seen," she added.

Ironically, Shropshire, in the forefront of the campaign against cuts, emerged top of the county table in terms of expenditure for secondary pupils although its placing in the primary league was below the national average.

David Oliver, head of 550-pupil Church Stretton School, said the authority had always responded to the needs of its schools.

Church Stretton has 32 mainstream teachers, and two staff for 20 special needs pupils. Its annual budget is just over Pounds 1 million. Mr Oliver said: "Much money has been spent on transporting children, but also towards keeping rural schools open. "

Derek Woodvine, chair of the county's education committee, said in the past few years education budgets has been set up to 9 per cent above the SSA - an major reason why the budget is under pressure and why Shropshire parents figured prominently in last weekend's cuts protest in London. "Our parents expect good academic results and our children have a right to them, and that is the bottom line," he said.

At the other end of the scale, Northumberland heads were understanding of the difficulties faced by their authority.

Simon Foley, head of Blyth Ridley high school, said: "Any problems with funding lie with the Treasury and the Department of the Environment, and not with the authority.

"From what we have seen the LEA is running is central services as frugally as possible. While school budgets have had to be cut by up to 3.5 per cent, savings of 15 per cent are being made centrally. They are doing their best, " he added.

Lindsey Davies, deputy director of Northumberland, said the commission figures were misleading because the LEA still operated a middle-school system, and those pupils were included in the secondary figures. She added: "There are areas in which we do not get the adjustments of other authorities such as area weighting and additional money for socio-economic factors."

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