Doubts over cash transfer to heads

24th November 2000 at 00:00
Ministers' plans to hand over more money may not be in public interest. Clare Dean reports THE official public-spending watchdog today urged the Government to think again about passing on more money directly to schools.

The Audit Commission report said ministers needed to assess whether it was in the public interest to hand over more cash to heads and governors.

The warning comes as the Government plans to increase the delegation target for local authorities from 85 to 90 per cent next year. Heads and governors now control more than pound;19 billion of public money.

It also runs counter to the Tory "free-school" policy to liberate schools from council control.

More than three-quarters of 1,400 heads surveyed in the first major appraisal of school finance since local management was introduced a decade ago were satisfied with levels of delegation. Primaries tend to have little more than half the level of administrative support available to similar-sized secondaries, the report says, and many heads felt they would gain nothing from more delegation.

In a further blow to the Government, the commission questions whether direct funding - such as via the pound;2.2 billion Standards Fund - is the most efficient way to deliver national priorities. Allocations varied in different schools from pound;15 to more than pound;200 per pupil in England this year.

A decade ago, heads controlled 5 per cent of the schools budget. Now they control 82 per cent. Yet some secondaries, with budgets of pound;2m-3m, are only visited by auditors every four years.

Day-to-day fiancial control in most schools is sound, according the commission. But its Money Matters report, published today, says that up to 15 per cent of schools have major weaknesses and that heads have limited time for their extra financial duties.

It says that funding variations of up to pound;400 per pupil per year between similar schools must be challenged. And it reveals that nationally schools have hoarded pound;600m in balances, though one school in 10 is in deficit.

Education ministers accept that there are school funding inequalities but say they have been unable to sort them out because council funding is managed by another government department.

Heads believe school budgets should be set by Whitehall through a national funding formula that would provide a minimum amount per pupil. But the commission says: "The present funding system needs to be improved rather than replaced."

Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said:

"Schools don't want more delegation thrust on them."

Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, added: "The Government should end its obsession with delegation and work out the best way to fund schools based on need."

Despite the commission's findings, heads' leaders are pressing for more delegation. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If they (heads) are the people who ultimately are going to be accountable for performance that's where the money should go."

News, 6; Leader, 16;

Report, 24-25

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