Fair Funding or Fiscal Fudge? Continuing Chaos in School Funding

On 23 June 1999, the Government published Funding Tables which are intended to show how government funding on education reaches schools and the proportion of funds which Local Education Authorities (LEAs) are holding back from schools.

The Centre for Policy Studies welcomes the Funding Tables, having campaigned for their publication since 1996 (when the CPS published School Funding: Present Chaos and Future Clarity).

However, there are a number of serious concerns which need to be addressed:

  • The Government has failed to deliver on its commitment to delegate 100% of funding to schools. On 23 June 1998, the Secretary of State for Educaton and Employment, David Blunkett MP, wrote in The Times: “We are extending financial delegation to 100% for all schools. The Tories proposed increasing it to 90%, then withdrew after limited opposition.” The Funding Tables make it clear that LEAs are currently taking an average of 17.6% of schools’ budgets for the year 1999-2000.
  • There are several flaws in the Funding Tables. In particular, capital expenditure and capital financing costs are not included in the tables; the total Standard Spending Assessment (SSA) allocation is not revealed; and the basis of the comparisons between the data for this financial year and the previous years is questionable.
  • The method by which funding is allocated to schools remains opaque. LEAs continue to have the right to retain funds which would otherwise be delegated to schools. LEAs are still able to set their own budgets before handing on what is left to the schools under their control: there are a total of 89 exceptions under which they are able to withhold funds.
  • The only constraint on LEA extravagence is the continuing publication of such Tables.
  • Direct financing of schools which enables schools to buy in the services they wanted – as in the case of the Grant Maintained Sector – has been shown to contribute to the rasing of facilities and standards. While the publication of Funding Tables is welcome, this should not obscure the importance of delegating a far greater proportion of funds directly to schools.
  • Greater delegation of funds to schools remains a priority. The Secretary of State was right to set a target of 100% delegation of funds. He has taken the first tentative steps in tightening LEA extravagence. There is still much more to do.

Nick Seaton - Tuesday, 8th June, 1999