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EDUCATION SECRETARY AT ODDS WITH HIS COUNTY COUNCIL

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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

Education secretary Charles Clarke - MP for Norwich South - criticised Norfolk CC's handling of its education funding which, according to MPs and headteachers, was threatening redundancies because of inadequate budgets for schools.

Mr Clarke told MPs the wide variations in the figures between schools were 'extremely striking'. He was analysing the factors carefully and would report back.

The revealation came during DfES questions when Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, asked what assessment had been made of the impact of the impact of the increase in national insurance contributions and the new formula spending share on school budgets in Norfolk.

Mr Clarke said the DfES was analysing in detail the impact of the changes in Norfolk and other LEAs. He said he had discussed the matters with Norfolk's director of education and the county chief executive, and he welcomed the council's decision this week to add £500,000 to the 'extra £1.6m the government were able to allocate recently to help schools in Norfolk'.

Mr Lamb welcomed the extra money allocated to the county council, but asked the education secretary to meet headteachers so that he could hear directly from them the scale of the problem. The situation, he said, was pretty bleak, with many schools facing cuts in staff and teaching assistance.

Mr Clarke said he had already met people from schools in his own constituency and neighbouring Norwich North. He was prepared to meet Norfolk representatives of the National Association of Head Teachers, who were seeking a meeting with him. He said he had also had substantial e-mail and letter exchanges with schools in the county.

Mr Clarke added: 'The questions that I am putting to Norfolk CC include the following. Why is 41% of the standards fund - a total of £6.3m - being held back from schools? Why is 1% of the individual school budget - £2.84m received during the year - also being held back from sch ools? Why was the non-individual school budget increased by 29.5%, which is a substantial amount, much higher than that received by many other authorities.'

He said he was considering why the Norfolk formula allocation had such wide variations in budget sgare per pupil - for primary schools, the lowest was an 18% decrease, while the highest was an increase of 95%. The top quarter of primary schools had basic increases of an average 16%, with the lowest quarter receiving only 7%.

'Those are sharp differentials', declared Mr Clarke. 'The county council does not have a system of floors and ceilings, which it should have, as we do in the country as a whole'.

He urged Mr Lamb to join him in asking the council to explain itself.

Tony Wright, Labour MP for Cannock Chase and chairman of the commons public administration select committee, said he had conducted a survey of schools in his area and many were in the same position as those in Norfolk, with a shortfall in funding and perhaps requiring redundancies. He urged the Norfolk LEA to put all its extra money into the schools that were facing difficulties, redundancies and staff cuts.

Mr Clarke agreed and acknowledged the fears of schools, adding: 'However, the wide variations in the figures between schools are extremely striking. We have to understand why that is, because the budget for each individual school is affected by a combination of the government's allocation to the LEA, the council tax increase and the county council's formula for allocating money. We are analysing those factors carefully and I will report back to colleagues in Norfolk'.

Hansard 10 Apr 2003: Column 395 - 397

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