A lottery lesson from Georgia

4th April 1997 at 01:00
Come the millennium, we shall have a spare category for the weekly millions. Cyril Taylor would like to see it devoted to schools.

Today, neither British schools nor universities can benefit from Lottery funding. The only exception being that a limited number of schools can bid for sports or arts grants to fund community provision in their areas. The billion plus pounds or so of annual Lottery funds is divided roughly equally among five boards for the arts, sports, national heritage, charities and the millennium. The Millenium Board will cease to operate in the year 2000. As yet no decision has been taken on who should be given its Pounds 300 million annual funding. However, one suggestion is that the money should simply be redistributed among the four other boards.

An obvious alternative to this would be to set up a special educational initiatives board. There has already been some discussion of investing Lottery funds in information and communications technology with the aim of promoting lifetime learning, but a more comprehensive analysis of the advantages of using Lottery money for education is urgently required.

Principles need to be agreed on how the money would be allocated and which criteria should be used to select grant recipients. In order to prevent the Treasury using these funds as a replacement for regular continuing state support for education, it would be vital to introduce the same condition of "additionality" which applies to many European Union grants. Under this principle, grants would be restricted to projects that increase the total spending on education and which would otherwise not be funded.

It would also seem sensible to include continuing operating costs, perhaps for a limited period of up to three years, as well as capital investments in the eligibility criteria for projects. The five British Lottery boards restrict grants to capital costs only. As for Lottery grants, preference could be given for projects which included private sector participation.

A special independent board to award education grants should be set up as a parallel to the Sports Council which awards Lottery sports grants and the Arts Council which awards Lottery arts grants. Such a body would logically report to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment rather than to the Department of National Heritage.

Among the criteria for determining the awards could be whether or not the projects will achieve one or more of the following: lImprove standards of literacy and numeracy, especially in the inner city.

* Raise standards of achievements in key subjects such as maths, science, technology and modern languages.

* Improve the competence of teachers in the area of information technology.

* Encourage more graduates to take up careers in teaching, especially in subjects in which there is a shortage of teachers.

* Invest in information technology infrastructure at all levels of education.

* Encourage collaborative efforts to raise standards between schools, further education colleges and universities. We urgently need to improve the spirit of partnership between these three levels of education.

Such a framework would provide funding for vitally needed special projects which suffer from lack of support, because of the constraints on public expenditure, including: * Literacy centres to eradicate the problem of poor reading skills suffered by approximately one-third of our 11 year olds; * More technology, language, arts and sports specialist secondary schools. Today's funding levels allow only one in three applications to be approved despite half of the initial capital cost being provided by the private sector; * More investment in IT in schools; * Enhanced IT training for teachers; * Special incentives to encourage university students to enter the teaching profession. This would be especially valuable if and when maintenance grants are replaced by loans.

A similar approach has proved to be very successful in the state of Georgia in the United States. As reported in The TES last July, under the dynamic leadership of its visionary governor, Zell Miller, Georgia now allocates Pounds 340 million each year from its lottery to raise educational standards. This support is in addition to the regular funding of its schools and universities paid for by the local school board taxes, state grants and university tuition fees. Since the programme started in 1993, more than Pounds 700 million has been received by Georgia's schools and universities from the lottery.

The Georgia lottery funds are directed to three new educational programmes: starting with a voluntary pre-primary school reading and numeracy programme for four-year-olds, continuing through investment in technology in primary and secondary schools and completed by the HOPE scholarship programme (Help Outstanding Pupils Educationally) for students entering colleges from secondary school with a B average who maintain that average through the completion of four years' undergraduate work.

A complementary initiative launched by the Governor in 1995 is the P-16 programme which receives considerable help from the 34-institution state university system (with 206,000 students) under the leadership of Dr Stephen Portch, its British-born and -educated chancellor. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage a co-ordinated approach among schools, community colleges (the equivalent of our further education colleges) and higher education to raise standards at all levels of education. For example, there is a pre-college programme for students among the 40 per cent of secondary school students thought to be at risk of either dropping out of school or failing to gain admission to post secondary education. This programme includes special literacy and numeracy measures, a mentoring programme for young black high-school students organised by black university students, summer schools at universities to improve qualifications for college entry and a state-wide publicity programme on how to apply to a post secondary institution.

British politicians should note that the Georgia lottery scheme has proved to be popular with voters in that state. Governor Miller was re-elected in 1994 despite that being a very difficult year for Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

If Britain is to compete successfully in the 21st century we need to improve the skills of our workforce. Investing Pounds 300 million of Lottery money each year in measures to raise educational standards would be a good place to start.

Sir Cyril Taylor is chairman of the Technology Colleges Trust

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