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Funds boost for language learning

Pressure from the Education Secretary and a former minister appears to be responsible for the doubling of funding for new language-teaching projects under Section 11 next financial year.

Gillian Shephard is known to have regarded the restoration of some Section 11 money as a priority when she took over as Education Secretary this summer, while former Minister of State Baroness Blatch - now in the Home Office, which has responsibility for the scheme - has recently expressed concerns over the effects of cuts on school pupils.

Section 11 has been under extreme financial pressure from three sources. More than than half of its funds - around Pounds 60 million next year - are being transferred into the new Single Regeneration Budget (SRB), where around Pounds 25m immediately becomes part of the Pounds 100m general pot of cash. Moreover, Home Office funding has been decreasing steadily - from Pounds 129m in 1992-93 to Pounds 111.5m next year - as has the proportion of money it provides to support each project with the local authority. Last financial year it provided 75 per cent towards each scheme: next year it will be just half.

The new money, announced in a parliamentary written reply by Home Secretary Michael Howard, is unusual in that it does not all come from his department. He has provided just one third of the Pounds 15m, with the remainder split between the Departments for Education and Environment. It doubles the Pounds 15m already earmarked in next year's Section 11 budget for new projects, and can apparently also be used for continuation of projects destined to end next April. It means that the amount of money left in Section 11 outside the SRB next year will be around Pounds 65m, an amount which does not impress local authorities.

Councils are particularly upset that Section 11 money will pro-vide a "disproportionately large" amount - around 25 per cent - of the Pounds 100m which forms the SRB's general pot of money not ring-fenced for a particular purpose. They fear this situation will worsen as existing S11 projects within the SRB come to an end and the money is freed for general use.

They are continuing to campaign for transitional funding for projects coming to an end, the ring-fencing of S11 money within the SRB, and a coherent, long-term project for language acquisition.

Graham Lane, chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' education committee, said: "The majority of Section 11 money funds classes in English as a second language. Continuity of funding is essential.

"Once again we see the Government reacting to a crisis of its own making by producing short-term props rather than establishing real, continuing support for language learning."

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