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Brown's cash for the poor adds up

So Gordon Brown has recognised it, too. Education is the cornerstone of a better society. As Laura Bush told a Unesco literacy conference last week:

"It improves opportunities, strengthens communities and helps parents to protect their children's health."

Mr Brown, a supporter of Education for All, the campaign to reach the world's 100 million out-of-school children, has given education priority in his Budget. It is the biggest winner this year and will get extra cash for the three years from 2008. As the Chancellor prepares to move into Number 10, that is good news for schools.

The detailed picture is more complicated. Mr Brown's pledge to bridge the divide between state and independent school funding means very little, as our analysis last week showed. Without a commitment to match future increases in private-school fees, it is nothing more than a promise to increase school funding per pupil faster than the rate of inflation.

Schools will be glad of that, but it is not the same as giving Hackney comprehensives the income enjoyed by Westminster and St Paul's. And the annual increases in school funding for the next three years will be smaller than in the previous three.

Ultimately, Mr Brown's decision to give an extra pound;1 billion to eradicate child poverty may make as much difference to teachers' lives as the money he puts into school budgets. A decade ago, the Government insisted that poverty was "no excuse" for school failure. Now, as the improvement in test scores slows and after a United Nations report showing that Britain is the worst place to grow up, it has changed its view.

That is progress. All the research shows that a child's background has more influence on educational achievement than the curriculum, tests or teachers. Schools need no reminder of this as they cope with the effects of drugs, violence and family breakdown. Children in the grimmest families need help long before they cross the school's threshold. Teachers do make a difference, but they can only do so much.

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