Ever falling budgets;Local authority spending;Hot data

26th February 1999 at 00:00
LOCAL authorities are setting their budgets for next year. As long as Environment Secretary John Prescott doesn't indulge in some last-minute capping, schools will now have some idea of what percentage rise they might receive. Direct comparisons with last year will be difficult because sums will be inflated due to the extra cash being transferred to schools under the Government's Fair Funding reform.

The figures in the table show that funding per pupil fell steadily in secondaries in the 1990s. A secondary school with 1,000 pupils would have lost an average of pound;140,000 from its 199697 budget compared with 199091. This might equate to five newly-qualified teachers. This squeeze goes some way to explain why the decline in recruitment to secondary teacher training has not produced a crisis of unfilled vacancies.

In 199091 local management of schools was still being phased in, and the pressure on funding might have been greater still, but for the transfer of resources through LMS.

There is some evidence that grant-maintained schools have experienced a smaller decline than other secondaries, presumably because of the extra services they are required to fund. On average GM schools saw funding decline by only pound;20 per pupil between 199091 and 199697, compared with the pound;140 decline for other secondaries. It would be interesting to know what happened to independent schools during this period.

Primary schools are still better off than in 199091 as their funding per pupil only peaked in 199495 and have declined modestly since then. Once again GM primaries have fared less badly than other primary schools. As might be expected, special schools have very high pupil costs (and often even higher costs if transport is included). These still seem to be rising, posing questions about the disparity of funding between special educational needs children in mainstream schools and those in special schools.

The school share of the Government's additional funds for education over the next three years means that funding per pupil will improve in real terms between now and the next general election.

Not all schools will benefit to the same extent. Per-pupil funding is a snapshot of the average position. Schools face more ring-fenced funding, channelled through an increasingly complex bidding process; the complex nature of the standard spending assessment formula, and any capping rules; local authorities' budget preferences and assorted free offers from private companies eager to be seen to be helping improve education. The net result is likely to be a widening of the gap between the best and worst-funded schools. How per-pupil funding relates to output measures is an issue for those who propose performance-related pay schemes.

One comfort for schools is that the decline in their pupil funding has been nowhere near as sharp as that in further and higher education. The rapid expansion in university places has been accompanied by a decline in unit costs from pound;6,500 in 199091 to pound;4,790 in 199697; a fall of about a quarter in less than 10 years. No wonder advanced skills teachers will earn more than professors of education.

John Howson is a visiting fellow at Oxford Brookes University and runs an education research company. E-mail: int.edulineone.net

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