Funding formula 'needs to change'

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The Independent Online
THE LAST report on English schools to be published by HM Inspectors did not tell ministers exactly what they wanted to hear.

But like it or not, yesterday's judgement by the inspectorate on how the Government's policy of giving schools their own budgets has been working is difficult to ignore. The report was based on numerous school visits and a three- year study of 63 schools in 21 authorities as they piloted Local Management of Schools (LMS).

The beneficial effects of this key Conservative policy on school premises and teacher morale are clearly acknowledged but the report identifies a fundamental weakness in the way the policy is being carried out - the formula whereby schools are funded on the basis of average salary costs instead of the actual salaries bill - and warns of its impact on schools in deprived areas.

Those sections of the report, like the HMI's frequent calls for improved funding for schools, will be ammunition for opposition politicians and teachers' unions. The suspicion remains that the abolition of the inspectorate after more than 150 years was prompted by the publication of too many awkward reports. It was not that ministers did not want to know what was going on in schools; but did everyone else have to know as well?

Replacing the 480-strong HM Inspectorate will be Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, a smaller body which will license teams of outside inspectors, some of them private consultancies. Many more schools will be inspected; the Government's pledge is that each school will be visited every four years.

Professor Stewart Sutherland, the new Senior Chief Inspector of Schools, argues that Ofsted will be more independent of the government of the day.

Eric Bolton, the former Senior Chief Inspector, said yesterday that ministers would lose out on policy advice on specific issues such as reading or GCSE. 'One of the main jobs was to spot issues coming over the horizon,' he said.

Scotland has kept its inspectorate. The new Further Education Funding Council has set up its own 'mini-HMI' employing experienced inspectors from the old service.

The Independent Schools Joint Council has set up its own inspection scheme and is openly contemptuous of the system inflicted on the state sector by Kenneth Clarke, the previous Secretary of State for Education. Its inspection teams are headed by former HM inspectors and composed of serving headteachers. 'No amateurs', as one headteacher put it.