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Minister invites class-cutting bids

Local authorities will have to compete for the first tranche of Government cash available to reduce the number of infant classes with more than 30 pupils.

Ministers have given councils six weeks to come up with plans to begin to redeem the Government's pledge on infant class size. Funds will be given to pay the first-year costs of employing extra teachers or bussing five to seven-year-olds to schools with smaller classes, but there are plans to provide specific grants in subsequent years. The money will be distributed on the basis of educational need and cost effectiveness of the schemes.

The Department for Education and Employment will not announce until next month the total sum available next year for this programme. Originally councils were told that a minimum of 30 local authorities would be funded; now there is no indication of the number of councils that will get grants.

The total available from the Standards Fund (formerly known as Grants for Education, Support and Training) is expected to be increased from Pounds 300 million to Pounds 500m. However, local authorities will be expected to increase their contribution to schools from 40 per cent to 50 per cent. The only exceptions are the cost of reducing the size of infant classes and the cost to schools of heads taking the National Professional Qualification for Headship, which will be met in full from central government.

Ministers do not intend to take direct account of social deprivation in determining which areas will get funds for extra infant teachers. The school standards Minister, Stephen Byers, said the Government's commitment was that all five, six and seven-year-olds be in classes of 30 or fewer by the end of its first term.

The focus of centrally directed grants is to be school improvement through targets agreed with local authorities. Ministers want greater emphasis on training to improve management and teaching skills.

There is Pounds 4m to be spent on summer literacy schools, which will pay for 400 classes. Priority for funds is to be given to deprived areas. In addition, Pounds 2m is to be spent on schemes for work-related learning for 14 to 16-year-olds.

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