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Brown's Budget gets personal

Ten days ago the Government was struggling to get its flagship plans for independent state schools past its own backbenchers. This week Chancellor Gordon Brown relegated that whole battle to the sidelines by announcing his own plans to fund every pupil to the level enjoyed by independent school pupils.

If Tony Blair was performing a high-wire act in pushing trust schools past his party, then Mr Brown has performed the equivalent of slinging his own wire over the Niagara Falls and unicycling across, juggling chainsaws and completely upstaging the boss. He has set out his stall as the heir to Blair in his most eye-catching Budget. In the promise of smaller classes and better resources for all pupils, he has grabbed the attention of Labour backbenchers, parents and teachers.

Trust status - in which only a handful of heads had expressed any interest, and which would have been open to the few, not the many - now appears truly irrelevant. In Brown's educational vision, all pupils are worth the investment currently made by parents who can afford - or choose - to pay for it. Teachers and Daily Mail readers alike will love it.

As a former state school pupil, Mr Brown appears to have a different take on education than Tony Blair and David Cameron, Fettes and Eton old boys.

In a rare personal touch, his Budget speech included the line that he had the best chances in his education and wanted the same for all young people.

And so there will be almost pound;1 billion a year by 2008 for personalised learning and pound;8bn capital spending two years later.

A new rule funding education to A-level for anyone up to the age of 25 will also do much to encourage second chances. And heads will be ecstatic at the extra cash coming direct to their schools from next month.

But the devil is in the detail, and there is a prudent vagueness to the (long-term) timescale for matching state and private funding of pupils. If the Budget does its intended job of putting Mr Brown in Number 10, perhaps that will not be a problem.

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