RADICAL plans to tackle educational underachievement in the inner cities and reform post-16 education were unveiled by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his Budget this week.
Inner-city schools will receive a quarter of the pound;400 million for computer learning centres, with the rest being spent on setting up information technology centres in colleges, shopping centres and libraries. Up to 800 new centres will be created as part of a pound;1.7bn plan to improve computer literacy - all linked to schools through the National Grid for Learning.
The package, which extends beyond the usual focus on basic skills in schools, is the latest demonstration of the Government's desire to tackle under-performance at all levels. A senior Government source said further announcements on inner-city education will follow in the next few weeks.
An overhaul of the funding of post-16 education and training was also signalled in the Budget. New-style individual learning accounts will be introduced to encourage people to save for training. ILAs are personal savings funds which allow individuals, the Government and employers to invest in education.
Ministers will use them to target cash and encourage people to pursue subjects in which there are serious skills shortages.
Initially, there will be a 20 per cent discount on training for all those with ILAs and an 80 per cent discount for adults who take basic computer courses. But ministers plan to extend the scheme to other shortage areas.
Teachers struggling with information and communications technology will be offered subsidised loans to buy computers. Those who borrow school computers will not be taxed on the "perk".
David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, said: "Ensuring that as many people as possible have a grounding in basic skills and computer literacy is not just desirable but essential."
Schools will also each receive pound;2,000 to spend on books. Last year, schools were forced to spend a similar grant within a few weeks but they will be free to spend this year's cash when they want.
David Willetts, Tory education spokesman, criticised the Government for being obsessed with central initiatives. "So much money is being held back in the centre, we are now getting less money through to schools," he said.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the Budget proved that the Government had extra cash which could have been used to pay teachers more.
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