More money and yet more form-filling

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Why do we need another grant, another plan, another guidance document to help schools do their work, asks John Dunford

In the present funding climate, an additional pound;525 million over three years must surely be welcome. But the leadership incentive grant is one of 66 separate funding streams for secondary schools, introduced at a time when an attempt is being made to rationalise the funding system and reduce the number of separate grants. This one is intended to raise achievement, strengthen leadership and stimulate collaboration between schools, although it is difficult to understand why an entirely new mechanism has to be invented for these worthy aims.

Instead of using a formula to target funds efficiently to schools in greatest need, the leadership grant offers a large sum to 1,400 secondary schools and nothing to the other 2,400, creating the biggest cliff edge of all in a system that already has too many such precipices.

Some of the recipients are, by any standards, high-performing schools and, by their own admission, not in need of the additional money - except, like many other schools, to balance their 2003-04 budget.

Yet many of the schools not receiving the grant are eligible for few, if any, other grants. Primary schools are not in the scheme at all. Some financial encouragement to collaboration and leadership would be greatly welcomed there.

One would expect that schools receiving the grant would be happy, but the obligation to draw up collaborative plans has involved many extra meetings, much form filling and additional workload. Nor are the leaders of these schools impressed by the rhetoric of ministers keen on "taking out" heads and other managers deemed by invisible criteria to be inadequate. Local education authorities have been given a role in the incentive grant planning, offering unwelcome opportunities for town or county hall interference.

Whitehall has a big role in the grant too. Leadership incentive plans have to be in two parts: a plan to improve school performance and leadership, and a collaborative plan, which has to be approved by the Department for Education. The Secretary of State, in a further extension of centralisation, has the power to withhold the grant if plans are "inadequate".

In characteristic bureaucratic edu-speak, the guidance states that grant plans should "involve transforming pupils' experience so that every school enables every pupil to excel by addressing individual talents, gifts and needs". I thought that was what schools received all their money to do. So why do we need another grant, another guidance document, another plan, to help schools to do what they are trying to do anyway?

Extra money for education should always be welcome, but, if the pound;175m of the grant money for 2003 had instead been put into core school budgets, it would have made a substantial contribution to the solution of this year's funding crisis.

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association

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