Cautious welcome for education spending

By Rebecca Sheppard and Lisa CleverdonTEACHING unions have given a cautious welcome to the announcement of an £15billion rise in education expenditure.

By Rebecca Sheppard and Lisa Cleverdon

TEACHING unions have given a cautious welcome to the announcement of an £15billion rise in education expenditure.

Gordon Brown said the rise in education expenditure in England would be 4.4% a year after inflation, adding it would rise from £49bn this year to £52bn in 2005-6, £60bn in 2006-7 and £64bn in 2007-8.

The outlay per pupil in England will rise from £4,500 this year to £5,500 by the end of the next three-year spending round, twice what it was in 1997, added Mr Brown.

He said the “typical” primary school in England would get a direct cash boost of about £55,000 in 2005-6, while the average comprehensive school would get £180,000.

That is the year when schools face their biggest costs in implementing the national agreement aimed at reducing teachers' workloads.

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Up to 1,000 more comprehensive schools will also be able to get the extra cash that goes with specialist status under this year's Budget and spending review.

Specialist schools get a one-off grant of £100,000 plus up to £123 per pupil per year extra in return for developing expertise in a particular subject or area, such as maths, sport or business and enterprise.

Mr Brown told the Commons yesterday there would also be more money for school buildings and equipment

Martin Goold, Suffolk county secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said: “This is a blunt instrument they are using here by giving every school a lump sum.

“It may seem like a good idea, but in fact some schools are in greater need than others, particularly in Suffolk where there are a large number of small schools.

“We need to be able to reallocate funding and new money. We need a much more intelligent system of funding schools than giving lump sums and paying out so much per head.”

David Crowe, headteacher of Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich, added: “The problem with block allowances of that sort is that the same amount goes to the smallest primary schools as the biggest.

“We are bigger than most high schools with 690 to 700 pupils on the roll. For very small schools, it is excellent.”

Mr Crowe said he would put the money towards extra teaching time to make classes smaller as well as investing in more resources and materials for expensive subjects such as science, art, music and design technology.

Part of the cash would also be used to buy more interactive whiteboards and computer projectors for the school.

But Mr Crowe said it was “annoying” that typical secondary schools would receive more than three times the amount given to primary schools.

“Primary is the foundation for the education that happens afterwards. It is undervalued in the way it is funded,” he added.

National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, David Hart, said: “Gordon Brown's Budget is a reasonable deal for schools, providing we don't have a repetition of this year's fiasco and we find the Government slapping inflationary wage, pension or National Insurance costs on schools between now and 2007-8.

“It is also critical that schools get a slice of the action from the vast savings that central Government is supposed to be making as a result of its war on bureaucracy and red tape at the centre.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: “The increased spending on education up to 2007-8 is very welcome, but we have to see how much of it reaches school budgets before we give three unconditional cheers.

“The last spending review, when early joy turned to later grief for many schools facing unprecedented budget cuts, taught us a lesson that we have to wait for the small print before we can be confident that schools will receive the funding they need to fulfil all the Government's promises.

“Much of today's funding will be earmarked for specialist school status, expensive city academies and other Department for Education projects. What is needed is increased funding in core budgets.”

Mr Brown said it was also necessary to continue investing in Government programmes aimed at cutting child poverty and improving early years education.

Spending in these areas – including the Sure Start programme that integrates education, childcare and services for poor families with young children – will rise by £669million by 2007-8, or 17% a year after inflation.

Bryony Rudkin, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “We welcome the Government's announcement about additional funding for key areas of education, such as early years and school buildings.

“Early years is an important area for us as Suffolk is moving towards making sure that all three-year-olds can benefit from early education.

“We welcome the opportunity to renew and improve our buildings to ensure that pupils are taught in the very best surroundings.”

Meanwhile, the traditional Budget increases in fuel and beer duties were greeted with resigned disappointment.

James McElhinney, a chartered accountant for Scrutton Bland, which works for 40 hauliers, expressed reservations about the fact that the fuel duty rise will be delayed until September 1.

He added: “The increase in diesel prices is inflation-linked. It's a 3.8% increase and as long as there is not an increase because of the dollar strength at the same time it will be an inflationary increase, which one has to accept.”

Betty Bone, 83, from Sudbury, who has campaigned against huge increases in council tax, said pensioners still faced rising bills because of Mr Brown's decision to increase fuel charges.

“I am appalled that the Government has raised the price of petrol. I, like most people, rely on my car and I would find it difficult to cope without it, but now it is going to cost me even more than it does already,” she added.

“I think it is a complete imposition on our lives to put the price up. In turn, the rise will also put the price of everything else up because there is nothing that isn't delivered by roads and manufacturers will have to cover the extra cost.

“I think the Government will just keep putting the price of things up more and more and the only way that will change is if the whole system changes under a new party.”

The Campaign for Real Ale had asked the Chancellor to cut beer duty by a small amount as part of a long-term strategy towards reducing duty to a level that would take the profit out of beer smuggling and enable British pubs and off-licences to compete on an equal footing with French retailers.

Mike Benner, its head of campaigns and communications said: “A penny may not sound like much, but the tax rise follows recent wholesale beer price rises by some brewers.

“Some pubs will now be charging as much as 12p a pint more than they were only a month ago. At a time when beer consumption is falling and pub-going is in decline, this is a disappointing outcome for consumers and hard-working licensees.”

Liz Fayers, publican of the Rose and Crown in Bury St Edmunds, added: “We were not surprised by the results of the increase in the cost of beer, although it was still a disappointment for me and my customers.

“Every penny placed on alcohol by the Government just adds to the amount of people getting it from abroad or from supermarkets instead of the pub, which has a detrimental effect on my business.”

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