Record cash deal tied to new targets

THE Government this week unveiled historic increases in education spending as Labour staked its future on dramatic improvements in secondary schools.

Funding of UK schools, colleges and universities is to rise by an unprecedented pound;15 billion over the next three years, a real-terms increase of 6 per cent a year.

The investment, heralded by the Government as the highlight of a record pound;511bn public-sector settlement, will see the proportion of national wealth spent on education rising to a 25-year high.

But ministers, who published a raft of new targets to back up the investment, could face embarrassment this year over failing to meet one of their highest-profile aims.

A TES poll of 118 primary schools found that only 78 per cent of 11-year-olds had performed to expected levels in English national tests - short of the 80 per cent target. Former Education Secretary David Blunkett once pledged to resign if the figure was not met this year.

Setting out her plans to 2006 and beyond, Education Secretary Estelle Morris said the cash was only being invested on condition that there was another wave of reform.

The comprehensive system, still bedevilled by a "culture of underachievement", would be transformed, while changing teachers' working lives would put them at the "cutting edge of public service professionalism".

Ms Morris said there would be "no excuses" if the system failed to improve. She told The TES: "If I'm lucky enough still to be here in 2006, there will still be underperforming schools, there will still be failing headteachers. We won't get perfection and it's going to take longer than four years.

"But I do want to give it the best possible go because this is a battle that's worth winning."

Ministers are to replace the traditional comprehensive with a five-tier "ladder" of specialist schools. New "advanced" specialist schools will be encouraged to take over failing secondaries while other schools will be encouraged to "federate" under a single governing body.

Chancellor Gordon Brown is to give a typical secondary pound;50,000 extra a year in direct funding, and primaries an extra pound;10,000. There will be new grants of pound;125,000 a year for three years to 1,400 schools in challenging circumstances.

Further education colleges will receive a real increase of 1 per cent every year, providing they agree to improvement targets. University funding will not be announced until a review, likely to recommend increased tuition fees for some courses, reports in the autumn.

In schools, there will be more money for measures to improve pupil behaviour and extra pay for science and maths teachers. There will also be a new centre for excellence in science teaching. Education maintenance allowances giving 16 to 19-year-olds up to pound;1,400 a year to stay on at school will be extended nationally.

Much of the cash comes with strings attached. Ministers are increasing pressure on governors to sack underperforming headteachers. And they are demanding that schools recruit thousands more administrative staff, partly to cut teacher workloads, to qualify for the direct grants.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"There is much more to welcome than to criticise. But there is still too much emphasis on pressure and not enough on support."

Damian Green, shadow education secretary, said the plans represented yet more centralisation from ministers.

News, 3, 6, 7 and 8; Leader, 14 FE Focus, 29, 31

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