Funding adds up to a fiasco

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Even by the Department for Education and Skills's own account, the way the Government has managed to turn supposedly record rises in school funding into a shambolic crisis is astonishing. Ministers' attempts to shift the blame to local authorities are somewhat undermined by the memo the department sent to 10 Downing Street (page 3). This shows that the much vaunted pound;2.7 billion increase is largely illusory.

pound;2.44bn had already been accounted for by the Government itself by increased pension and National Insurance contributions, pay rises and cuts in other grants. That left an increase of less than 1 per cent for the all-important workload agreement. It might have worked if ministers had left it at that. But they didn't. They also chose this year to make two radical changes to the way schools are funded.

First they introduced a new funding formula which guaranteed that many authorities received less than required to meet the additional costs imposed by HM Government. Then they diverted much of the targeted Standards Fund into general funding, leaving further gaping holes in the budgets of schools which had made commitments on the strength of specific funding.

The DfES is not responsible for all of this. But it apparently went along with it without bothering to investigate the effects at school level. Only now has it woken up to the realisation that there is worse to come. Next year the fuller costs of the workload agreement begin to bite. But the department now says even more money will have to be found just to stand still and avoid "large numbers of losers".

None of this can have enhanced the Treasury's confidence in the DfES. The truculence of Charles Clarke when first confronted by complaints about funding probably stemmed from the ignorance and complacency displayed by his department. This incompetence even outstripped that shown at the DfES last year over A-level reforms. At this rate, David Miliband, implicated in both of these blunders and responsible for the workload agreement, will need more than friends at Number 10 if he hopes to survive in office.

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