County set prickly on issue of new money

9th February 1996 at 00:00
The poor cousins in terms of education funding are finally rebelling, reports Lucy Hodges, but is anyone going to help?

Essex has been improving its primary school funding by Pounds 10 million annually in recent years. Spending on primaries is expected to rise by 13.2 per cent between 1992-93 and 1996-97, whereas spending on secondaries will increase by only 3.8 per cent.

The extra cash flowing into primaries is new money, and works out at about Pounds 80 for each pupil. Dave Crosson, headteacher of Bournemouth Park junior, in Southend, believes the change of policy was long overdue. "Primary education has always been a poor relation," he says.

Secondary schools do not need more money per head than primaries, he says. "We need science equipment and we need computers just as they do. And we are woefully understaffed."

Like most other primary schools, Bournemouth Park teachers have no non-contact time so they have to do all curriculum planning, monitoring, and assessment in their spare time. But Mr Crosson draws the line at improving their lot by taking money away from secondaries.

At the local grant-maintained comprehensive, Cecil Jones High, which takes 11-year-olds from Bournemouth Park, headteacher Bob Hellen agrees primary schools are underfunded. But he bristles at the notion that the money should come out of his budget. "Our funding is decreasing," he says. "What we are talking about is new money, not taking away secondary money to give to primaries."

Mr Hellen is worried by funding trends in Essex and thinks the Government should act.

In fact, the funding switch simply brings Essex up to the national average level for primary schools. This year the county is spending Pounds 1,160 on 10-year-olds at the top of primary school this year, and Pounds 1,589 on 11-year-olds at the bottom of secondary school, a gap of Pounds 429.

But, the county is caught by the Government's common funding formula which ring-fences money for secondary education in authorities with a large proportion of grant-maintained schools, making it more difficult to shift cash to primaries.

Some critics of the Government argue that this formula will help to reverse the slow tilt in spending toward primaries because it will reduce the amount of discretionary money some authorities have to play with.

As Julia Bennett, of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, put it: "It does jeopardise primary budgets where the common funding formula requires authorities to maintain expenditure on secondary schools."

Tony Travers of the London School of Economics agrees. Primaries in some authorities may lose out as a result of a formula intended to protect GM schools, he says. "I have no doubt the results will be as the AMA suggests. "

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