A TES survey reveals that authorities of all types are trying to make education a top priority in an attempt to save teachers' jobs. But scores remain under threat. Mark Whitehead reports.
Primary heads are calling for a radical overhaul of the way school budgets are decided to end the annual free-for-all caused by the present system.
They say the Standard Spending Assessment used by the Government to decide how much each local authority is given for education and other services is unfair and little understood.
The National Primary Headteachers' Association, launched last year, wants a new formula based on a reassessment of pupils' needs.
It says funding per pupil under the present system is weighted heavily in favour of secondary schools and can vary dramatically between authorities and from year to year.
The grant to a school for a child aged nine might typically be Pounds 1,100, while a 13-year-old might attract Pounds 1,600 or more, the association claims.
Discontent over SSAs - often seen as baffling figures dreamed up by secretive Whitehall mandarins - surfaces every year when they are announced.
This year many authorities were angered over apparently arbitrary cuts.
Tony McKee, chair of the NPHA and a primary school head in Liverpool, said: "Every year there is a bunfight with everyone arguing their corner but nobody seems to understand how the formulas are worked out.
"Local education authorities don't know until the last minute what their SSAs are going to be and how they are going to translate them into school budgets.
"We believe a formula can be worked out to apply across the country which would be simple, equitable and transparent."
The association says the new national formula should include an amount for all children based on their common educational needs, plus extra to take account of particular requirements due to such factors as the cost of examinations and social need.
A report on the association's proposals, Entitled to Succeed, was being considered yesterday at a meeting of parents, governors and unions.
It says a national formula should include a "guaranteed entitlement" for all children regardless of age, race, gender or where they live.
It should be set at a level to ensure a good quality education in all schools.
Extra would be provided to cover factors including examination costs, support staff and specialist subjects such as languages, science and swimming. The extra would also cater for social and geographical needs.
The association was launched last year by Sir Malcolm Thornton, the Tory backbench MP who chairs the House of Commons education select committee. It has had discussions with all three main political parties, but was attacked as divisive by teachers' unions.