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Council chiefs oppose proposed cuts in education services grant

Proposed plans to cut a further £200m from school funding will put extra pressure on the ability of councils to support improvement and accountability in schools, local authority chiefs have claimed. 

The Local Government Association (LGA) says it has protested to the Department for Education (DfE) over the cuts proposed to the education services grant, a fund paid to councils to cover school improvement and other education functions. 

The DfE's consultation document argues that the spread of academies and free schools – which receive a version of the education services grant directly from central government – means that local authorities now have less to do, and could make savings by charging fees from the remaining maintained schools in their areas. 

But both Solace and the LGA argue that the funding proposal highlights a lack of clarity between the DfE and Ofsted about the council role in education. 

For instance, Ofsted says that processes to support and challenge underperforming academies are in place, but inspection evidence raises concerns about the rigour, depth and impact of these arrangements, at a time when councils have been told not to intervene in academies and are not funded to do so. 

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: “With 'Outstanding' and 'Good' schools fast-tracked to academy status, councils have a growing task turning around the 25% of schools in England that need to be better. 

“Mums and dads need to know that whatever type of school their child goes to, it will be subject to rigorous challenge to ensure high standards. As more schools take advantage of the average £700 per pupil additional funding that academy status brings, we need to make sure that no child and no school is left behind. 

“Funding council-maintained and academy schools equally would go a long way to driving the improvement of underperforming schools, otherwise we risk a two-tier system opening up which will penalise children in the 84% of schools which are not academies." 

While the coalition government has promised to ring-fence education spending, the education services grant is not inside the protected ring. The grant is currently worth £116 per pupil at each maintained school this year, but is likely to be cut by 20% if the DfE decides to go ahead. This is compared to the grant received by academies which is £140 per pupil. 

Mark Rogers, president of Solace, said: “Local authorities take very seriously their duty to ensure that there is a great education for every child irrespective of the type school they attend. The DfE's reluctance to address the confusion surrounding the oversight of schools will only be worsened by this further reduction in the resources available to councils to act as champions for best education for every child.” 

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