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Show us the money, ministers are urged

LIKE teachers, parents' number one priority for education as we enter the 21st century is money.

While ministers, from Tony Blair down, proclaim education to be at the heart of their agenda, those with children at school want to see the warm words backed up with hard cash.

Having raised expectations before the election, Labour is now struggling to meet them. Despite the pound;19 billion "windfall" for education announced last year, the TESFDS poll shows that more than four in five parents believe the Government doesn't give enough money to schools.

It shows that ministers' announcements of extra cash aren't matched by parents' day-to-day experiences. Labour strategists are certain to be concerned that they are not getting credit for higher spending. Our poll also suggests that they will have to do more than just increase pressure on local authorities to ensure money gets to schools.

Overall, a third of parents cited lack of resources as the biggest problem facing schools - more than teacher recruitment, teaching standards and class sizes added together.

And parents themselves are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. Seven in 10 would back a rise in income tax to fund improvements in schools. But those with children at "poor" schools were less enthusiastic about paying more. A third said they would not be prepared to see a tax rise. Schools will have to produce results if parents are to remain willin to put their hands in their pockets.

Support for higher income tax sends a clear message to politicians, but only the Liberal Democrats have so far backed such a policy. And ministers are likely to continue to look elsewhere to meet the demand for extra resources. While most parents are willing to pay higher taxes if the cash goes to schools, voters without school-age children are likely to be less keen.

Whatever ministers do, the reality is that many parents are already coughing up. The Blairs may have hit the headlines after they were asked to contribute to their son's school, but they are not unusual. Half have been asked to give money directly to their child's school in the past 12 months. Nearly one in two requests was for under pound;20, but 7 per cent were asked to pay more than pound;100. Parents in Wales were much less likely to be expected to fork out than their English counterparts.

School trips were the most common reason for schools asking for money. But a large number of schools are filling gaps in their general budgets; one in three requests was for running expenses and one in six for books.

And while most parents are happy to help with "extras" such as sports halls, computers and even library books they are less sympathetic when it comes to running expenses such as pens and paper.

But there is hope for schools in deprived areas; it is those who can afford it least who are most willing to pay.

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