Why we need local funding powers

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
Support for a national system of funding for schools is thankfully ebbing away, though David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (Summer debate, TES, August 8), continues to peddle some of the myths that led the Secretary of State to get his fingers burnt earlier this year on the issue of the so-called "missing millions" not finding their way into school budgets.

Currently the management of education is a joint enterprise between schools and central and local government. If the Department for Education and Skills funded schools directly, it would certainly change more than just who signs the cheque as we all know that money is the most effective lever of control.

It is also worth remembering that it has been the interventions into the classroom of central government (both Conservative and Labour) that have incurred the wrath of so many of your readers over recent years. Yet more evidence for the old maxim that good government is government as close as possible to the people affected.

Some of the best work that local education authorities are doing is brokering local collaboration and collegial relationships between schools and forging better links with other local service providers.

If any updating of rigid funding regulations is needed, it should loosen the rules to give LEAs and schools' forums more flexibility, not less.

Greater centralisation would also go against the trend in government towards greater local control and away from a unitary national edifice with ridiculously long chains of command, such as in the health service.

Even this Labour Government, which has generally been one of the more control-freak governments, seems to be accepting the value of localism. For what we see in the debate about national or local decision-making of school funding is a microcosm of the bigger clash between the Government's declared desire for more local power, and accepting that this means in practice they might not like what it throws up.

We saw this most clearly in the scrap over school funding levels where the Government demanded that certain authorities increase education funding.

These just happened to be those it had just declared "excellent" and therefore promised greater autonomy to.

Either you accept local decision-making is a good thing or you don't.

James Kempton

Lead Lib Dem member

Education amp; Lifelong Learning Executive

Local Government Association

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