Money talks of confidence

So here it is at last. Events conspired to delay Gordon Brown's announcement on public spending until the dying days of another demanding school year. This will probably add to the weariness with which the news is received by those who have to make a reality of these spending plans in schools. If so, that negative reaction should be resisted - for the time being at least.

An average 6 per cent increase for English schools over three years totalling pound;12.8 billion extra by 20056 should be cause for rejoicing rather than cynicism. It is a significant investment, not just of money but of public confidence in the teaching profession; a recognition of what has been achieved by schools as well as support for the mountain yet to be scaled. It may not be as much as some hoped. But, for schools at least, this is probably as good as it gets.

Reality reasserts itself with a jolt when the billions are translated into more modest school-sized chunks: the increase in direct grant is equivalent to another teacher or two for the average secondary and less than half a teacher for a primary. Funding through local authorities is also increasing. But bitter experience warns headteachers that what governments give with one hand, local authorities frequently spirit away with another, whatever new powers ministers may plan to control council spending.

Then, of course, there are the New Labour rhetorical wrappers designed to rebrand the comprehensive. These are there to offer reassurance to the aspirational consumers; people who might otherwise vote with their wallets for private schooling (and for a party which applauds them for doing so).

Irksome though it is for many educational professionals to see the validity of their lives' work denied in this way, pragmatic practitioners should be learning by now to look beyond what Labour spin doctors say to what the Government actually does.

For once, there is some vision being held out of school improvement backed with progressive investment. The idea that some schools can and will help other schools to compete with them more effectively is, if nothing else, a refreshing rejection of the market cure-all. Only time will tell if it is a realistic one. Can professional commitment to pupils in other schools transcend institutional loyalties? Are the skills and management styles which apparently make one school succeed necessarily transferable to another in different and more difficult circumstances?

Providing extra support to 1,400 schools which badly need to improve, instead of rewarding schools which have already have, seems a genuinely progressive policy, like Excellence in Cities. We still await the small print on these pound;125,000-a-year "Leadership Incentive Grants", although it is clear they will be tied to tough school improvement conditions. That also is only realistic.

We will also have to wait and see if Mr Brown has provided enough to reduce workloads sufficiently to make teaching a sustainable profession again. Estelle Morris has made it clear that guaranteed preparation time depends upon union agreement to new contracts and acceptance of a wider role for support staff. But heads will also need to ensure the new money makes these affordable.

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