Last rites for dying body;Document of the week;Week in education

10th September 1999 at 01:00
The central funding agency for GM schools will be axed in October. But, as its final report shows, it is refusing to go quietly. Jon Slater reports

The final report from the Funding Agency for Schools is not slow to hail its own achievements.

The central funding body for all grant-maintained schools trumpets its introduction of seed money to allow its schools to invest in capital projects.

It has also enabled schools to borrow more than pound;6 million in the past year to finance improvements in facilities.

The agency points to its support for GM schools' bids to provide 6,500 new school places and 350 new nursery places.

But the report also details what has been a difficult year as GM schoools were returned to local authority control.

The agency continued to support almost 1,200 schools until April, but was also preparing for the handover of powers to the Department for Education and Employment and local education authorities. Since April it has been concentrating on easing the transition for schools and tying up loose ends.

On the whole the agency managed a smooth handover. It passed information about its schools to 100 different LEAs on time and has shared its forecasting, mapping and analysis systems with almost as many.

While co-operating with local councils, the doomed agency has fought hard for its schools.

Following agency pressure the Government agreed to extend funding to help schools make the transition to cover 1999-2000. As a result 235 GM schools shared pound;9m. And a review of the application of the local management of schools formula gained another pound;500,000 for the GM sector.

However, local authorities have been left with some unsolved problems. While seven GM schools were removed from special measures during 1998-9, six will come back to their local authority as failing schools.

And, despite higher levels of funding for GM schools, 38 return to local authority control in deficit. More seriously, five are being investigated after allegations of financial impropriety.

The agency closes in October - a move that will cost the taxpayer pound;4.2m. One of the major costs is redundancy packages for staff. One hundred and seven of the 284 staff were laid off at the end of March - 46 without a job to go to - and the redundancies continue.

However, in the midst of its closure, the agency has overseen the birth of a new school. Barnhill in Hillingdon will open in September 1999.

But, like many end-of-term reports, this one contains a mistake. Barnhill is not, as is claimed, the first to be built only using money from the public-private finance initiative. That was Victoria Dock primary in Hull.

SIX SUCCESSES OF THE FUNDING AGENCY FOR SCHOOLS

1993-1999

* Won almost pound;10m for GM sector between 1998-2000.

* Helped schools borrow pound;6m in 1998-9

* Attracted pound;140 million for school capital projects

* Developed guidance for self-management by schools

* Established three newly built GM schools

* Influenced the Government's new funding

framework for schools

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