Brownies' bonanza

21st July 2000 at 01:00
"WE'RE the Brownies, here's our aim Lend a hand and play the game"

In the 1950s, little girls sang this jingle dancing round a toadstool under the benign gaze of Brown Owl - playing out one of Lord Baden-Powell's more esoteric rituals.

Today's Brownies are more likely to be found in the Treasury - and last week they held the reputation of the Government in their hands. While the Blairites licked their wounds over revelations that Tony is widely considered to have lost the plot, Gordon Brown alone gave hope, to Labour supporters and to the country as a whole, that the Government still knows what kind of game it is supposed to be playing. Britain's public services, starved of funds for 20 years, at last received their long-awaited cash injection.

As the Chancellor began to unpack his war chest, he dispensed pound;43 billion to be spent over the next three years - including pound;12bn for education. Parents, school governors and the voting public were impressed, and headteachers were delighted with their summer treat, which will be bypassing the local authorities and coming straight to them.

But handing out lump sums while saving time and red tape, can result - as Education Secretary David Blunkett admitted last time he did it - in some rough justice. Large primary schools will receive less than small secondary schools, even if they have more pupils. Run-down schools in impoverished areas will get the same as well-funded schools in affluent districts: so one school may need to spend its windfall on mending the roof whereas another can focus on improving the curriculum.

And, by being satisfied with such a rough and ready approach and leaving all the decisions to individual schools, the Government risks giving the impression that it lacks an overall strategy for spending the cash. It is this disregard for important points of detail that is also responsible for the debacle over threshold pay. OK, so it's July and everyone's weary. But nothing can excuse the fact that teachers will now have to wait a further three or four months for that controversial pound;2,000.

Yet some good may come out of this episode if it has shaken the DFEE's view of itself as the fount of all wisdom. Maybe next year they'll listen to the teachers.


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