Nettle is grasped, but there is still much to do

13th December 2002 at 00:00
Any revision to the funding system was always going to attract a mixed reaction. Last week's long-awaited announcement by the Government has brought modest relief to some previously badly-funded local education authorities but produced new losers among those who were kindly treated by the old system.

One of the big gains is that the detail of the formula by which funds are distributed is out in the open. The former "funding fog'" has at last been dissipated. The data used to calculate who gets what are more relevant, up-to-date and reliable. Three-year budgeting is welcome and the power of LEAs to claw back excessive balances will deter heads and governors from hoarding.

The new "area cost" factor is arguably more sensitive and subtle than the one it replaces, a view that will probably not be shared by councils in the South-east.

Long-term campaigners for funding reform will be disappointed by several missed opportunities. Ministers rejected the wishes of most members of the Education Funding Strategy Group who wanted them to try to specify exactly how much schools needed to deliver a basic education.

Similarly, no attempt was made to do a "needs-led" analysis of an LEA's functions.

Moreover, although mainstream funding may be more transparent and equitable, serious inequity is preserved in the continuation of many specific grants. The flat-rate distribution of School Standards Grant, under which schools at the border between size bands can receive pound;15,000 extra for one extra pupil, is unreformed. The size of the grant steps lends a new urgency to schools just below the threshold to find a few more pupils.

At least this Government has grasped the nettle of school funding reform, albeit with gloves on. But for the aficionados of education finance, there is much unfinished business.

Peter Downes represented the Secondary Heads Association on the Education Funding Strategy Group

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