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COMMENT - MINISTERS SHIFT BLAME FOR MISSING MILLIONS

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It will come as no surprise to councils that ministers have tried to blame them for the schools funding fiasco. ...
It will come as no surprise to councils that ministers have tried to blame them for the schools funding fiasco.

There is chaos in the education system. The government is claiming up to £500m has gone missing thanks to councils. Schools in some parts of the country are handing their budgets back in protest. And the National Union of Teachers is threatening strikes - as usual - if teachers are made redundant.

Both schools standards minister David Miliband and education secretary Charles Clarke are quick to point out there is more money for schools, and so there is - an extra £2.6bn this year, £1.4bn next year and £2.1bn the year after.

The government says it has already handed the money over, the implication being not all of it has reached schools after being given to councils. Mr Miliband points the finger at councils by stressing it is they, not the government, that distributes the money to schools.

This controversy comes hot on the heels of the passporting row - the DfES was forced to back down over threats to reject Croydon and Westminster LBC's education budgets (LGC, 7 March). But the department seems to have learned nothing.

Blaming local government is too simplistic. Schools face enormous pressure from special educational needs and social services. Many councils are investing up to a fifth of the extra money on special needs provision and another significant tranche has ended up in the hands of social services, which play an important role in education.

What is more, pension contributions are up 5%, national insurance by 1% and salaries 3%.

So it would seem obvious that not every penny the government releases will end up in schools.

Yet the government refuses to acknowledge the demands councils face. While national government is notoriously bad at joined-up thinking, councils are making decisions every day that require a more integrated approach.

The education funding system is among the most complex in local government. The new system has result ed in some councils getting more - unsurprisingly they have remained quiet during the recent row - and other

getting less.

The DfES, which changed the system to make it fairer, should have the courage to put its case to schools, parents and unions and stop rubbishing local government - again.

LGC

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