Thursday, 13 March 2008

No strings attached

So it was a boring budget, as the minister with a reputation for being a 'safe pair of hands' emerged with his reputation intact. Forgive me as a non-driver if I don't get worked up about showroom taxes on gaz guzzlers; even as a drinker, I doubt that 14p on a bottle will bring an end to my Rioja-drinking habits. So boring was the budget that even the columnists had little interesting to say this morning. But this didn't stop Alice Miles. In the absence of much else to write about, she used her Times column to recall the days when Gordon Brown used to keep budgets secret from the Prime Minister (and much of the cabinet). But she was picked a bad example when she claimed
Mr Brown not only told the ministers the amount they were getting, he would publish a slew of targets telling them what to prioritise, and even directly order them how to spend it - he told David Blunkett, for instance, in March 2000 that the extra £1 billion for schools was to be sent directly to head teachers, bypassing local education authorities.
Not true. In fact, the direct funding was devised by David Blunkett and some of us who worked with him precisely to avoid all of the education spending being tied up in Treasury targets. Brown took a lot of persuading initially, though the 'direct grants' were to become a popular feature of later budgets (and a similar budget was introduced, at Blunkett's behest, for school capital). Indeed it was Brown's and John Prescott's opposition that prevented Tony Blair and Charles Clarke from moving to a national funding formula for schools that would bypass local authorities. And, in 2006, there was a return to form, when the Treasury started to link increases in what became known as the School Standards Grant to poverty indicators. The result has been that the one grant that benefited schools in every part of the country (and every constituency) has lost its simplicity and popularity. As Brown 2008 embraces reform and independence for schools, he should restore the simplicity of this direct funding, and use other resources to target the poorest schools. Better still, he could move to a national formula and funding agency for all secondary schools.

1 comment:

oldandrew said...

I'm of the view that (for secondary at least) a single funding system could be used for all schools and still take account of disadvantage if schools were funded according to the previous academic results of their intake, with more money being paid to schools taking students with lower KS2 SATs results. It would also encourage schools to aim for a reasonable comprehensive intake.