Too much freedom is a bad thing

9th July 2004 at 01:00
With each passing week it becomes clearer that Wales and England are two nations divided by a once-common education system. What we now have are two adjoining education laboratories. In the larger lab, as Labour's five-year plan confirmed this week, local authorities are to be given even less discretion over spending on schools. In the other lab, a scientist looking uncannily like Jane Davidson is maintaining a complex network of flasks, funnels and tubes that carries cash from Westminster to Cardiff and then on to schools through the local education authorities' partially-obscured filtration system.

The English experiment, which will entail more ring-fencing of school funding in future, can be seen as insulting to LEAs. But the Welsh system has fundamental flaws too. Headteachers and unions perennially complain that they cannot track the transfer of cash from Cardiff to LEAs to schools. The Assembly government insists that it has passed on record sums while the LEAs complain they have been short-changed.

It is still impossible to adjudicate on that issue but new education spending figures (see page 1) highlight other defects of the Welsh funding system. Schools in one authority are receiving almost pound;1,000 per pupil less than those in another LEA. And one council appears to be spending nine times more on school improvement than another.

Local democracy is worth defending but the freedoms of individuals and LEAs often have to be constrained for the common good. The message from these figures is that the Assembly government must address the widening disparities in LEA spending or risk losing the support of many parents and teachers who are happy with almost every other aspect of its education programme.

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