THE Chancellor is about to give education a pound;15 billion boost, raising the share of national income spent on schools, colleges and universities to a 25-year high, it was predicted this week.
To sustain recent increases Gordon Brown must raise spending by pound;5bn each year to 2006 in next week's Treasury review - which sets funding for all public services for the next three years. A smaller rate of increase would be seen as reneging on the Government's pledge - repeated by the Prime Minister in an interview with The TES last week - that education remains its top priority.
Funding has risen in real terms by 5.8 per cent a year since Labour stopped following the spending plans of the Conservative government three years ago.
Similar growth would see education spending rise from pound;53.7bn to pound;68.3bn by 2006. In 20056, the proportion of national income spent on education would rise to 5.6 per cent, higher than at any time since 1979.
But Carl Emmerson, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the Government could decide on a smaller increase for education so it could satisfy competing claims from transport, law and order and defence.
The pound;15bn rise still falls well short of the 7 per cent of national income that former Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson and General Teaching Council chairman Lord Puttnam say education needs. That would mean an extra pound;32bn by 2006.
However, Mr Brown's room for manoeuvre is limited: he has already set out plans which show that public spending outside the NHS will rise by only pound;40bn in total by 2006.
Education Secretary Estelle Morris's biggest priority for the review is cutting teacher workload, mainly by giving all staff guaranteed time out of the classsroom and taking non-teaching jobs from teachers. Teachers'
employers say such changes will cost pound;800 million.
Among the biggest commitments already signalled by the Government is pound;600m to pay all 16 to 18-year-olds from poor families up to pound;40 a week to stay on at school.
Ministers are also expected to allocate up to pound;500m on a range of measures to improve pupil behaviour.
The Government's drive to tackle deprivation in education will be stepped up, with teachers handed extra money to work in difficult inner-city schools and extra cash allocated to support struggling schools.
The Excellence in Cities scheme to raise standards in urban areas could also be extended.