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More tests loom in wake of pound;12bn

The latest large cash boost comes with strings attached, reports Nicolas Barnard.

SCHOOLS face tough new targets and the threat of new league tables after the Government pledged the biggest sustained increase in education spending for 20 years.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's announcement of a pound;12 billion rise over three years will see cash going to raising standards in secondary schools and closing gaps in inequality at all age levels.

Heads applauded the move for allowing them to make a concerted assault on class sizes, but it is money with strings. Teachers of 13-year-olds will be expected to meet even higher attainment targets than their primary colleagues. Unions fear that key stage 3 league tables will inevitably follow.

If the Government thought it was sending teachers off on their holidays smiling, the mood was overshadowed by the chaos resulting from its humiliating High Court defeat over performance-related pay. Almost 200,000 teachers face a three-to-six month delay in receiving their pay rises, with a slight chance that the whole scheme could be put back a year.

Under the Chancellor's three-year spending review, education funding across the UK will be pound;11.9bn higher in 2003-04 than this year. After inflation, that means a pound;7.8bn increase - an annual 5.4 per cent in real terms, or 6.6 per cent including the pound;1bn boost announced in this year's Budget.

By 2004, UK education spending will have risen by a third since 1998. This s at least the third major increase in education spending since the 1997 election. The country is in the second year of the first three-year round, yet teachers say the cash is not getting through.

The Chancellor extended this year's one-off direct grant to schools for three further years and almost doubled its size to pound;540 million - inflation-linked. Heads can spend the money as they see fit. Next year, primaries will get between pound;6,000 and pound;40,000 each, depending on size. Secondaries will get between pound;50,000 and pound;70,000.

The grant accounts for roughly 3 per cent of school budgets, but David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It gives all heads an opportunity to improve their class sizes, create non-contact time for their staff or employ more support staff."

Other improvements include:

500,000 school computers.

A pound;500m expansion of the Sure Start programme to cover 345,000 pre school children.

Further expansion of nurseries.

A Children's Fund worth pound;450,000 over three years to help children and young people at risk.

pound;100m for higher education.

The settlement should also ease fears that performance pay rises will not be covered beyond 2001.

Wales and Northern Ireland will both receive budget increases in line with those for England. Total spending in the next three years will rise by pound;2bn in Wales and by pound;1bn in Northern Ireland.

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