Teachers call for change in school funds 'lottery'

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The Independent Online

Headteachers condemned the "lottery" of school funding yesterday, claiming that budgets were determined by factors as arcane as the type of grass and the height of trees in school grounds and whether or not the kitchen had a microwave oven.

Headteachers condemned the "lottery" of school funding yesterday, claiming that budgets were determined by factors as arcane as the type of grass and the height of trees in school grounds and whether or not the kitchen had a microwave oven.

They pointed to wide regional variations in the amount of money available for each pupil, and proposed that ministers set up a national formula for school budgets.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) also accused some local authorities of using excessive red tape to distribute small amounts of money. Government regulations require local authorities to pass 80 per cent of their schools budget directly to headteachers. But a survey found that 56 failed to do so.

The NAHT survey also found wide variations in the amount of money per pupil given to schools in different areas. Derby, for example, gave schools £1,464 per primary-school pupil, while the top spender, Kensington and Chelsea, paid £2,582. For secondary schools, Bradford paid £2,014 per pupil while Barnet, one of the top spenders, paid £2,778.

Mick Brookes, a Nottinghamshire head teacher and vice-president of the association, said the situation was a shambles: "I have 260 in my school and my average funding is about £1,531 per pupil. If I could uproot the school and put it in Hampshire I would get £1,738. That makes an increase of £53,000. If I had that I could restore swimming and I could increase our level of resources."

Heads also complained at the bureaucracy involved in the funding system. In Bolton, the money given to schools for maintenance of their grounds is calculated with a formula that took account of three types of grass. The authority pays for 36,000 shrubs, roses and bushes at £1.60 each.

In Reading, the height of a school's trees was part of the equation, with trees under 10 metres high worth £7.39 and those over 15 metres worth £24.13. Kirklees council has a light-bulbs factor (4.3 pence per square metre), a toaster factor (£24.13 each) and a microwave factor (£6.03).

David Hart, the association's general secretary, said: "We really are tying up money in needless bureaucracy, particularly in how we allocate small sums of money."

But Gale Wallace, education policy officer at the Local Government Association, said the union's statistics were flawed. Money administered by local authorities was either sent to schools in the form of specific grants or spent on essential services such as education welfare officers, transport and special-needs education, she said.

She admitted some factors used to calculate budgets looked "bizarre on paper" but said they were legacies of detailed contracts drawn up at the time when many local services were put out to private tender. Schools had control of the entire delegated budgets, she said.

The funding gap between school sixth forms and colleges is widening, colleges claimed yesterday. A survey by the Association of Colleges (AOC) indicated that school sixth forms would get £3,300 per student taking three A-levels next year, compared with £2,492 for colleges. The Government is considering reforms of the way sixth forms are funded.

Dr John Brennan, policy director of the AOC, said: "We are concerned that the funding gap is getting wider. This makes more urgent the task of harmonising the system of funding 16-to-19 education."

How budgets are calculated

Factors used by local authorities to calculate their formula for school funding:

Grass: Bolton takes account of three types of grass: rough (2p per square metre); "amenity" (12p per square metre); ornamental (£1.12 per square metre).

Trees: Reading pays schools £29.55 for trees over 15m tall; £14.77 for trees 10-15m; £7.39 under 10m.

Light bulbs: Kirklees pays for bulbs at the rate of 4.3p per square metre of premises. It has counted 11 toasters in its schools' kitchens, allocating £24.13 each for replacement, and 22 microwave ovens (£6.03).

Walls: in Rotherham the local authority takes into account the area of walls; in Birmingham the height of ceilings is a factor.

Cesspits: Suffolk and West Sussex schools receive extra allowance for the maintenance of cesspits.

Hostels: in Derbyshire and Derby, the number of local women's refuges is a factor in funding.

Crime: Reading schools have an allowance based on the number of recorded crimes at the school.

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