GORDON Brown drew the general election battle lines in his Budget this week, declaring that spending on schools and public services must take priority over tax cuts.
In a swipe at the Tories, the Chancellor said the pound;1billion boost for education was "money we could not provide if we made irresponsible tax cuts". His was a policy of "tax cuts we can afford, (but) schools and hospitals first".
The money will be used to raise direct grants to schools and to tackle the teacher shortage. This was combined with a renewed attack on child poverty which teacher unions hoped would benefit their members in the future.
Education Secretary David Blunkett will announce on Monday how an extra pound;200 million for recruitment and retention will be spent. It is expected to be targeted at encouraging former teachers back into the classroom with a pound;2,000 to pound;4,000 grant. But teachers' leaders said it would be better spent persuading serving staff to stay on (see page 9).
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
"This is a schizophrenic Government, denying the existence of the crisis whilst seeking acclaim and votes by offering solutions."
Heads will receive between pound;1,000 and pound;12,000 a year more than expected for their schools as Mr Brown increased direct grants - a device introduced only two years ago but already the favoured method of getting cas into school budgets.
Grants for building will also be larger than previously announced, with a typical primary getting pound;3,250 extra and a secondary pound;9,500.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "At last the Government is delivering in a key area upon which it will be judged by school leaders in the run-up to the general election."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the attack on child poverty would improve the atmosphere in the classroom. Mr Brown predicts his measures will take 1.2 million children out of poverty.
Maternity leave will be extended to 26 weeks, and maternity pay raised from pound;60 to pound;100 a week. With increases in child benefit and the new children's tax credit, parents will be pound;2,240 better off in the first year of their child's life from April 2003.
Mr Brown said the cuts in national debt meant that, for the first time in years, Britain was paying less in interest than on schools.
Local-authority leaders remain unconcerned at the growing slice of cash going directly to schools. Local Government Association education chair Graham Lane said that grants still made up barely 3 per cent of school budgets.
The grants would solve the pound;200m shortfall in teachers' pay, he said. "Sticking it into school budgets in a block grant is a crude way of doing it. But councillors should bear this in mind when setting school budgets and target the needy."
News, 9; Briefing, 20-21