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Muted praise for Brown largesse;News;News amp; Opinion

The Chancellor's pledge of an extra pound;150m for school building repairs is welcome, say heads, but with pound;12 billion in the bank, he should have done more. Karen Thornton reports

SPENDING ON school buildings has more than doubled under Labour, ministers claimed this week, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced extra money for school repairs in his pre-Budget speech.

But, though welcoming the extra money, teacher and governor organisations have said the Chancellor should have dipped deeper into his estimated pound;12 billion "war-chest".

Capital spending will average pound;780 per pupil between 1998 and 2002, according to Department for Education and Employment figures - compared to only pound;340 per pupil between 1994 and 1998.

Headteachers will also get their hands on nearly pound;200 million of capital spending next year, devolved to them from education authorities under the Government's fair funding proposals.

And schools that raise their own money for pet building projects will be able to apply for top-up funds from a new pound;30m budget. The Seed Challenge Capital Initiative will be piloted from next April, and is based on a similar scheme for grant-maintained schools.

The DFEE announcements, made yesterday, followed hot on the heels of Mr Brown's statement. This featured modest extra spending on education - including an extra pound;150m to tackle the backlog of school repairs, pound;12.5m for more childcare places at further education colleges, and pound;10m for boosting enterprise skills in schools.

Education is seen as a key element in the battle against child poverty. Mr Brown has pledged to spend pound;6 billion a year extra on children by 2001 - a figure that includes extra spending on their education. The Chancellor's pre-budget report also outlined proposals for a children's fund to support the work of voluntary and community organisations in deprived areas.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the extra pound;150m for repairs - pound;50 million under the New Deal for Schools (the Government's programme to tackle the repairs backlog), and pound;100m for private finance deals.

But he added: "It's regrettable that the pound;12bn war chest isn't going to be unlocked to check the increase in class sizes in secondary schools. That, and getting real money to all schools in disadvantaged areas, should be priorities.

"It takes time for money to get into the system. The Chancellor has missed the chance to get that money into schools before the next general election. We are facing a lost year, as far as spending on education is concerned."

Pat Petch, chairman of the National Governors' Council, also welcomed the extra funding for school repairs.

She said: "You have to bring schools up to a good standard if you want to bring education standards up to an acceptable level as well.

"It's unacceptable to expect teachers and children to work and learn in low grade buildings."

"Children are having to be taught in classrooms that business wouldn't consider acceptable for their office staff."

The National Union of Teachers wants to see still more spending on the repair and replacement of buildings - and more money for reducing class sizes for junior age pupils.

In his statement, Mr Brown pledged that by 2002 around 15,000 schools - serving five million pupils - will have benefited from the Government's pound;5.5bn New Deal for Schools.

The extra pound;50m for this programme announced this week could pay for the equivalent of replacing 500 old mobile classrooms.

As far as private finance deals are concerned, the department is already committed to 30 schemes to modernise school buildings. Another 17 schemes involving 64 schools are already provisionally lined up for 20012.

The extra pound;100m found by Mr Brown should now allow a few more projects to be added to the list.

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