Show us the money

11th April 2003 at 01:00
Heads fight back over ministers' claims that new funding changes should leave schools rolling in it. Phil Revell reports

HEADTEACHERS facing budget cuts after this year's controversial funding settlement are dismissing ministers' claims that they are responsible for their own misfortunes.

"I've heard the explanations," says Frank Gulley, head of Temple Sutton junior school in Southend. "And none of them applies to my school."

Listeners to Radio 4's Today programme last week heard Mr Gulley outline the dire situation his school is facing in the coming year, with a shortfall of more than pound;200,000. Like many heads, he will be hit by massive rises in staffing costs and sudden income losses caused by changes to the Government's standards fund.

In last week's TES, ministers and employers put their spin on events. There was, in fact, plenty of new money available, but too many local education authorities were failing to pass the full settlement on to their schools.

Some heads were suffering because they had over-staffed their schools, or failed to anticipate changes in grant-funding. Cash cuts caused by falling rolls were being unfairly blamed on the Government.

None of these scenarios applies to Temple Sutton. Frank Gulley's school has seen a rise in roll this year and less than 90 per cent of his budget is spent on staffing. He anticipated a standards fund fall, but had expected that this year's additional funding would more than make up for the loss.

In fact, Temple Sutton's funding increase for the coming year is less than pound;30,000, under 2 per cent of Mr Gulley's budget. But on April 1 the school lost more than pound;80,000 of standards funding. The Southend primary is a big school, with 743 on roll. Funding to protect class sizes alone was worth nearly pound;60,000 last year. That money is no longer available. Education department officials say that the grant has been transferred to the general schools' budget. "Where's the money?" asks Mr Gulley. "I can't find it."

He cannot find the cash to fund the workload agreement either. In January, teachers' leaders signed the agreement to limit workload, to be implemented over three years.

Schools were promised extra cash, amounting to pound;70,000 for the average primary and more than pound;350,000 per secondary. No one questions that this funding exists - it is just that it does not appear to have trickled down to Frank Gulley's school.

Some LEAs were accused of failing to pass the full settlement on to schools. But Southend is one of the highest-delegating authorities, handing over 89.6 per cent of the education budget.

How has this problem arisen? The first answer is local. Southend is one of a dozen or so authorities in the South to be given a very low settlement in this year's funding reforms - 3.2 per cent. Authorities in the Midlands and the North did much better.

And, contrary to the education department's claims, there is no subdivision of the education pot that allows LEAs and schools to track the funding flow. There is no neat relationship between funding announcements and the amounts received by individual schools.

Frank Gulley's funding problems have been exacerbated by a 15 per cent rise in staffing costs this year. Shortening the mainscale pay spine has meant increases of more than pound;2,000 for some teachers, but national insurance and pension payments have also risen.

More pain is to come. Southend's 3.2 per cent settlement should have been lower but it has been protected by a funding cushion that will be removed over the next two years.

"This is a successful school, serving a disadvantaged community," says Mr Gulley. "We get A star PANDA grades and I don't want to put that at risk.

There has clearly been a miscalculation of funding needs."

Education Secretary Charles Clarke is, however, disinclined to listen to such complaints. Schools and local authorities have cried wolf too often.

Somehow they have always found the money; from squirrelled-away funds, from community-charge increases or from other budget headings.

"It's different this time," heads claim. And so it is, especially for schools in authorities with a below-average settlement. Yet schools in the poorest authorities would point out that their per-pupil funding is several hundred pounds below Temple Sutton's.

Such discrepancies stem from the Government's refusal to consider activity-led funding - where budgets are based on actual costs. No one was surprised last summer when this was rejected by ministers because it would have proved expensive and difficult to control. But that decision condemned schools to the annual scramble to stretch a notional budget to meet actual outgoings. This story will, as they say, run and run.

Funding in Wonderland, 31

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