Education a winner as spending rockets

Education has emerged as a clear winner on at least one measure of the Scottish Executive's spending plans for the next three years, according to an analysis carried out for The TES Scotland. But, as with all figures, it depends on how they are presented.

The cash distribution, announced in Parliament last week by Andy Kerr, the Finance Minister, will see overall Government spending in Scotland rise by over pound;4 billion by 2005-06. The Scottish Executive Education Department's share will increase from pound;409m now to pound;608m within the three years.

David Bell, professor of economics at Stirling University, says this represents an overall increase of 49 per cent in SEED spending, a 10.4 per cent average growth each year compared with 2001-02. This is money for schools, childcare, social work and specific grants which include the Executive's support for the pound;1.15bn school rebuilding programme under public private partnerships (PPP).

Professor Bell says these spending plans put education well ahead of transport, the next biggest winner with an overall increase of 34 per cent and annual growth of 7 per cent, and health which will have 31 per cent more or 6.9 per cent a year.

Cathy Jamieson, the Minister for Education and Young People, told The TESS:

"The spending review is a very clear message that education is one of the Executive's main priorities, both in terms of schools and childcare. It also shows that we are prepared to find the money for commitments already announced such as the teachers' settlement, the PPP programme, new community schools, and so on."

But the picture is less clear if spending on colleges and universities, the responsibility of Iain Gray, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, is included.

The money he will be able to allocate to the further and higher education funding councils will increase by 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively over the three years, which Professor Bell calculates at a 4.7 per cent a year-on-year increase for FE and 3.5 per cent for HE.

But he says if education and lifelong learning are taken together, the spending increase is 25 per cent in the three years, or a 5.8 per cent rise each year. This puts it behind transport and health, as well as the 6 per cent annual extra for education south of the border announced in Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending review statement in July.

The actual money schools will receive over the three years will remain uncertain since the bulk of it goes through local authorities; their annual increase from the spending review is just 4.7 per cent.

Like Ms Jamieson, however, Mr Gray was more concerned to accentuate the positive. He pointed out that the combined expenditure on further and higher education four years ago was pound;800m. In three years' time, that sum will be spent on HE alone, with another half a billion earmarked for FE.

Many of the decisions announced last week were not new, but they did represent confirmation that money had been found to meet previous commitments such as the pound;1.15 billion PPP school building programme.

But there were some significant new developments, including the target of designating all schools as health-promoting schools by 2007, annual support for tackling indiscipline and the extension of educational maintenance allowances to the whole country to persuade more pupils to stay on at school post-16.

Welcome for right direction

The Executive's new spending plans were generally welcomed. David Eaglesham, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association, said: "Spending in real terms is going up and that's to be welcomed. There is to be no radical departure. We're going in the right direction but it's quite unspectacular."

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