Skewed balance sheets

11th March 2005 at 00:00
he revelations in last week's TES Scotland of significant disparities in funding between schools must prompt politicians and professionals alike to ponder the way in which schools are currently resourced. The survey by the Headteachers' Association of Scotland of 11 of its secondary school members was even more remarkable for what it revealed about schools in similar situations and of a similar size: a gap of pound;250,000 was one answer, or the equivalent of a not inconsiderable 6.5 full-time teaching posts. The largest gulf was half a million pounds, or a whopping 16 full-time teachers, although the two schools being compared had to contend with very different social circumstances.

The association is surely right to make this a key issue. Primary heads have other concerns, not least the large number of heads whose teaching commitment leaves them little time to manage. But secondary heads are under serious pressure to perform, leading their schools to ever higher standards and securing year-on-year achievements. The central point is that they are all expected to comply with the same expectations - but they are clearly not funded on the same basis. Clearly size makes a difference, but it is the budgetary differences between like schools that make the current position untenable. The playing-field is far from level.

The question of what to do about it is not so clear. There is little appetite (unless you are a Tory) for the Executive to fund schools directly. Indeed the trend is in the other direction - for headteachers to be given even more budgetary discretion which, ironically for them, might reinforce the very disparities they are complaining about. But, while the mood is for decentralisation, that is no reason why there cannot be some kind of formula which brings transparency to the process. Perhaps, having upset headteachers so much with their job-sizing toolkit, this commission could be handed to their old friends at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In his speech to the Labour Party's Scottish conference, Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, said he had delivered more of the two Rs - reform and resources. The HAS survey has shown that the former cannot be delivered without an equitable distribution of the latter.

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