Latest per-pupil spending figures reveal significant regional disparities. Jon Slater reports
Schools in the south of England have missed out on spending increases of hundreds of pounds per pupil since Labour came to power, The TES can reveal.
Official figures reveal a dramatic North-South divide in spending, and this week the Government was accused of redistributing school funding by stealth.
Some northern authorities have had funding increases of almost 50 per cent since 1998, but others in the South have had little more than a quarter extra.
Unitary authorities and urban areas were among those to benefit most. There are no counties in the list of the top 20 biggest winners.
While councils in the North-east and West Midlands feature prominently in the winners list, the London borough of Ealing and Bristol are the only places in the South to make the top 20.
Schools in Middlesbrough have done best from Tony Blair's government. Real per-pupil revenue funding has risen from pound;3,080 in 1998-9 to pound;4,580 this year, an increase of 48.7 per cent. By contrast, Bournemouth schools received a 26.6 per cent increase to pound;3,760 per pupil during the same period.
If Bournemouth had received the same increase as Middlesbrough, its schools would now be getting pound;4,420, an extra pound;660 per pupil. Of the 20 councils receiving the smallest increases, only one, Leicestershire, is not in the South of England.
Essex, Surrey, Hampshire and Cornwall are among the areas that received the smallest increases, as is Lambeth, south London, which has high levels of deprivation.
The figures were revealed by Jacqui Smith, schools minister, in a parliamentary answer just before the summer recess.
John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, called for a government investigation to ensure the South was not unfairly losing out.
"We know David Blunkett (a former education secretary) wanted to shift resources northwards because he believed the South got too much money," he said. "There may be good reasons but we are supposed to have a transparent funding system.
"The Government needs to investigate whether there are good reasons for these differences and to ensure we are not getting redistribution by stealth."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It has been plain for years that the Government favours the North and the Midlands, and the South has come off worst. It has supported local authorities with the most deprivation, and councils where Labour has control. I have sympathy for councils in the South that complain about their funding."
Falling rolls, which have affected parts of the North and North-east in particular, may have contributed to faster increases in per-pupil spending.
But the effect should have been limited by the close link which the funding system makes between spending and pupil numbers.
A Department for Education and Skills spokesman denied there was a North-South divide. He said: "This is nonsense. School funding is at record levels, rising by pound;1,070 per pupil in real terms since 1997 (36 per cent). Funding for every local authority is carefully calculated according to pupil numbers with 'top-ups' to ensure it meets local conditions such as deprivation, staff recruitment and retention costs, and sparsity in rural areas."
Pratap Deshpande, corporate director of Bournemouth, said: "Many of our schools have had to make savings through hard decisions, and all do their best to avoid damage to the life chances of children. We will continue to work to do the best for our children, but it will be challenging if future budgets remain as tight or get worse."
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Percentage increases 1998-9 to 2005-6.
2005-6 spending Pounds per pupil
Middlesbrough 48.7, pound;4,580
Stoke-on-Trent 47.9, pound;4,200
Halton 46.3, pound;4,360
Rochdale 46.3, pound;4,300
Hartlepool 45.5, pound;4,220
Bournemouth 26.6, pound;3,760
Redbridge 29.5, pound;4,300
Torbay 29.6, pound;3,850
Hertfordshire 30.3, pound;3,910
Devon 30.8, pound;3,820