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IMPOSED PUPIL SPENDING PROMISE LACKS FLEXIBILITY TO MEET NEEDS

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A one-size-fits-all funding increase for schools regardless of local needs ...
A one-size-fits-all funding increase for schools regardless of local needs

carries hidden dangers, the Local Government Association warned today.

Jeremy Beecham, LGA chair, said that many schools and councils will

welcome the promise of extra cash, but he warned that council tax payers

will need a guarantee that when government grant levels to local authorities

are announced next month, the four percent promise is not at the expense of

other vital council services, or council tax increases.

The LGA was responding to Charles Clarke's announcementin the commons today

of a per pupil funding guarantee.

The danger is that one formula for 25,000 schools decided in Whitehall, will

have unintended consequences that councils may be powerless to solve. The

LGA has worked with DfES to try and ensure this is avoided - but the

make-and-mend approach is not a lasting solution, the Association

emphasised.

Sir Jeremy said: 'More funding for schools is welcome and the four

per cent will be good news for many schools. The LGA has argued that

headteachers need more money, more certainty, and earlier warning of

changes. But the reduction of local discretion would allow councils little

scope to direct funding where it is needed and some schools will be left

short next year. Existing inequalities will be perpetuated.

'Charles Clarke has conceded some of these arguments today, and a

restoration of some flexibility compared to what was threatened earlier is

very welcome. Constructive dialogue between us has helped.

'But we must tread with great caution. The government financial assumptions

and centralisation involved leaves little room for manoeuvre either to meet

councils own particular circumstances, or schools particular circumstances.

'We have worked with government to ensure that schools have adequate

budgets, and early news of funding decisions.

'Today we have won an assurance from Charles Clarke that the education

element of council grant will fund the four percent pupil guarantee. But

the education element does not account for the majority of council spending.

And for those councils on the funding floor, there is still a danger that

they will be left short.

'When council grants are announced next month, we will be looking for a

guarantee of our own - that the overall grant to local government ensures

that schools extra funding today is not at the expense of other key services

tomorrow. The teachers' pay settlement and the rising pay bill in schools

must also be fully funded.

'Progress has been made in recent years to ensure that funding matches the

increased pressures on schools. But unless the government allows councils

the flexibility to move money to areas of greatest need, and any overall

funding shortfalls are bridged by the time councils' grant levels are set

next month, many schools and councils could find themselves in difficulties

yet again next year.

'The real solution lies not in further centralisation and compromise fixes

thrashed out like this one today, but instead with an overhaul of the

balance of funding between central and local government, maximising local

discretion, and better management of school budgets.

'The sensible planning of local education can only be done in conjunction

with spending decisions that take account of local needs and are integrated

with other local services, such as social services.

'Since the problems in education funding last year, The LGA, across the

political divide, has talked long and hard with Whitehall departments,

particularly education, ODPM and the Treasury. Today's announcement reflects

this to a point, and we will keep on talking, with the aim of ensuring

schools needs are fully met, along with other council services - on many of

which schools rely.'

The LGA also emphasised that measures to peg so-call ed 'central' expenditure

could damage the provision for pupils with special educational needs and

pupil referral units.

'Most schools and many parents want their education authority to provide

increased provision for special educational needs, not less', added Sir

Jeremy. 'The fact this is defined as 'central expenditure' because it is

spent by the council rather than the school is very misleading.'

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