Money will be primary concern

9th May 1997 at 01:00
Funding differentials between primary and secondary schools

The funding differences between primary and secondary schools are likely to become increasingly controversial unless Labour can find additional money for schools.

According to DFEE figures, primaries enjoyed an increase in funding in real terms of around 7 per cent between 1991 and 1995, while secondaries suffered a 3 per cent cut.

The common funding formula now applied in authorities with large numbers of grant-maintained schools has effectively set a national standard for primary secondary differentials. But, at Pounds 1 for each primary pupil compared with Pounds 1.35 for each secondary pupil this year, it is more a reflection of the national average than an assessment of what primaries require to meet the needs of the national curriculum. Nevertheless, it may well put all authorities under pressure to match it.

Labour's emphasis on raising basic literacy and numeracy might mean an even higher spending priority for the primary sector. This would create massive job losses in secondary schools if it were met at their expense.

Labour also needs to work out how it is going to fund maximum infant class sizes, one of its firmest election pledges. It has not yet said - and may not know - how it is going to distribute the additional funds to local authorities and ensure they are passed on to schools. Local government representatives have suggested a scheme for funding based on LEA-led development plans.

One difficulty for the Government is how it can ensure such money is used for its intended purpose. As things stand, heads and governors decide their own spending priorities. Though primary schools in recent years have enjoyed higher funding, primary class sizes have risen steadily. Schools chose instead to use the additional money to provide more non-contact time, more support staff and higher salaries (see graph). The number of classroom support staff has increased by 56 per cent in primary schools over the last four years.

To deliver on its class-size pledge, the Government may need to change local authority LMS schemes, though at present the DFEE does not have the power to require such changes.

Specific government grants for class-size reduction schemes - rather like the Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST) - are another possibility. Another approach might be through regulations or conditions of service; in Scotland maximum class sizes are included in teachers' conditions of employment.

It is not yet clear what Labour's guarantee of smaller classes will actually mean in practice: insisting literally that no infant child will be put in a class of more than 30 could require legislation to limit parental choice unless there is to be a massive building programme in popular schools.

So will the target be to reduce the average class sizes for the relevant age groups or to improve pupilteacher ratios? Will it apply to every class or to the average in a school or local authority? And will the growing - and cost-effective - use of classroom ancillaries count in such calculations and therefore be encouraged, or will they be disregarded and thereby discouraged by any additional funding?

Local government representatives also want the rules of LMS changed to reduce the incentive for schools to have classes above 30. Under their proposals pupils above that figure would receive only reduced funding to reflect their actual marginal cost, not the average for children of that age. That would spell the end of local management as we know it.

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