GOVERNMENT spending on education is likely to rise by at least pound;14 billion over the next four years, a leading economic analyst predicted this week.
But Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, still faces a fight with the Treasury for even larger increases to solve a daunting list of problems in schools, colleges and universities.
Her ability to deal with issues such as cutting teacher workload and solving the staffing crisis could rest on whether she manages to win more funds.
The cash growth forecast is based on Labour's election manifesto, which pledged that education spending would continue to rise as a proportion of national income.
It was reported at the weekend that Chancellor Gordon Brown would keep that promise in his forthcoming spending proposals for the years to 2006. Sources at the Department for Education and Skills confirmed this was likely. According to Carl Emmerson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, education spending would need to rise by 5 per cent a year from 2004-6 to meet Labour's manifesto pledge. That would see education spending increase from pound;49.7bn in 2001-2 to pound;64bn.
But this pales beside the 7.9 per cent annual increase the sector has enjoyed since 1999. Ms Morris's appeals to the Treasury - her department is believed to have asked for annual increases in excess of 5 per cent - were an attempt to close the gap between the two figures, said Mr Emmerson.
Government insiders remain hopeful that Ms Morris will succeed, in the face of stiff competition for funds from health, defence, transport and the Home Office.
Tony Blair is thought to favour rewarding a department which can be presented as one of the Government's few success stories.
Conor Ryan, a former adviser to Ms Morris's predecessor David Blunkett, told The TES that reports that education, transport, defence and the Home Office had been told to cut their bids by 20 per cent should not be taken too seriously. He added: "I hope that the Chancellor recognises the need to reward education for having delivered, at least in part, on the reforms and targets it was set."
However, the list of demands on the education budget is long. Inflation alone would account for pound;1.5bn a year, or pound;6bn over the four years - implying a real increase of pound;8bn.
University funding may also have to increase substantially, warned Mr Ryan, with the Government committed to ensuring half of all young people under 30 go to university by 2010. Further education also has a strong claim for more cash.
So where does that leave schools? Ms Morris told the unions that cutting teacher workloads was her top priority for the spending review. Teachers'
employers estimate it will take pound;800 million to implement the provisions of a government-commissioned report on the issue.
Ms Morris is also seeking another pound;500m to tackle pupil misbehaviour. The department's other major priority is staff retention, by providing incentives for teachers to stay in the profession.
Against this background, Ms Morris suggested last week that yesterday's one-day strike in London by the National Union of Teachers could damage education's standing with the public and therefore with the Treasury.
However, Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, replied: "The action reflects the strength of feeling of our members. It would be completely wrong to say that this one issue is going to undermine the whole of the negotiations on the spending review."