B-plus for Mr Brown;Leading Article;Opinion

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Gordon Brown's latest Budget ought to be good news for education. First, there is the direct spending: the pound;400 million which will mainly be spent on computers and books, aims to close (or at least narrow) the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots". The network of up to 800 IT learning centres in schools, colleges, libraries, shopping centres and even cafes, plus the subsidised computers for teachers and for hard-up families, should enable far more people inside and outside the profession to become computer literate. Frustratingly, though, the predicted "free laptop for every teacher" bonanza has failed to materialise.

Then there is the intriguing suggestion that this Budget could be the first step in funding a major assault on under-achievement among inner-city teenagers: using individual learning accounts to encourage unskilled young people to train for jobs where there are national skill shortages. According to a new report from the Further Education Development Agency, the Government could eventually fund all post-16 education and training (including higher education) through these new-style accounts. (Although, as we point out in FE Focus, page 29, some serious problems would have to be ironed out first.) And in the very long run, the Chancellor's continued efforts at redistributing income through the tax system ought to make teachers' jobs easier. By doing away with mortgage interest tax relief and the married couples' allowance, Gordon Brown has released money to spend on couples with children, and special initiatives for less well-off families, such as Sure Start and extra child benefit. We know that one in three children is born into poverty; these measures ought to reduce the number of parents under pressure - and therefore the number of stressed or neglected children who find it hard to learn. Poverty may be no excuse for under-achievement, but the two tend to go together.

So far, so good. But will the teachers be impressed with the Government's generosity and good intentions? Doug McAvoy, general secretary for the National Union of Teachers, has warmly welcomed the Budget; but he has also called for strike action if the Government goes ahead with its Green Paper proposals for appraisal and performance-related pay. The overall education jigsaw is beginning to fall into place - but the teaching profession remains the missing piece.

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