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Rise in spending doubled by Labour

Last year saw an 11.35 per cent increase in education expenditure. Nicolas Barnard reports

Education spending has risen more than twice as fast under the present Government as it did under the Conservatives, new figures show.

While many teachers say the improvements have yet to reach the classroom, the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London puts the real-terms increase in education spending at an average of 3.7 per cent a year across Labour's first term, compared to 2.1 per cent under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Labour can be expected to use the figures to counter claims that over its first four years it has spent less of the nation's wealth on education - an average of 4.6 per cent a year - than the Conservatives did with 4.9 per cent under Major.

During Labour's first two years in office, it stuck rigidly to the Tories' spending plans and education received just 1.4 per cent extra a year. But spending last year rose by a massive 11.35 per cent after inflation.

There is more to come, too, with the real-terms increase for the next three years predicted at an annual 5.5 per cent.

However, the figures, drawn from official Treasury data, show that Labour has only this year matched Tory spending as a share of the gross domestic product.

Department for Education and Employment officials say that from April they will be spending pound;500 per pupil more than in May 1997.

But heads say they are barly starting to reap the benefit, and the National Union of Teachers said Labour must match its international competitors.

"When you have a booming economy, you have a growing GDP. That is the time to invest in education," John Bangs, the NUT's head of education, said. "It needs to spend much much more if it is to match the level of investment of OECD countries such as Singapore and Germany."

Carl Emmerson, senior research economist at the institute, warned that comparisons between education spending and GDP were ambiguous. "Spending as a share of GDP can be high because you are spending a lot, or because the GDP is low."

Labour has benefited from a strong economy, which means that increases in spending have translated into relatively small rises or even falls in the share of GDP.

The NUT warns that teachers will look to their core budgets and not to top-ups such as Standards Fund money to see how much better off they are. The picture around the country is patchy and the feel-good factor slow to translate.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "A good number of heads understand the economic argument that the Chancellor had to get the public finances in order first - it's pretty basic housekeeping, frankly.

"But the Government has now got to show its commitment to education, not just over the next three years, but for good. That's the real test."

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