Crunch time for numbers

14th April 2000 at 01:00
Ministers are on course to hit key targets, but promised extra funding has to reach the chalkface. Karen Thornton reports.

THE Government has set out the progress it has made towards meeting its education targets for the third year running in an annual report.

The Department for Education and Employment report gives an upbeat account of its progress: there are now nursery places for all four-year-olds and more than a third of three-year-olds; infant class sizes have begun to fall and the flagship literacy and numeracy strategies have brought marked improvements in children's reading and maths skills.

But as with any company prospectus, you have to look at the small print and the figures to get a full picture.

Thus, while infant classes are becoming smaller, class sizes in secondaries are rising. And there is little indication, as yet, that targets to reduce school truancy and exclusions by a third by 2002 will be met.

Given that the report is an expanded account of the DFEE's expenditure plans submitted to the Treasury and published in summary form as part of the Chancellor's recent Budget, it's not surprising that the real interest is in the spending figures.

These, as The TES reported last week, show an "underlying increase" in education spending, taking inflation into account, of pound;2.2 billion in the next financial year (2000-01). This includes an extra pound;1.1 bn for school revenues, channelled through local authorities, and an extra pound;500 million targeted through the DFEE's Standards Fund. The figures represent a rise in revenue funding for schools of 8.7 per cent.

But there is also evidence to support schools' claim that they have yet to see much of the promised bonanza. Once inflation is allowed for, spending per pupil in nursery, primary and secondary schools actually fell between 1994-95 and 1998-99 - a reflection of the spending squeeze imposed in the first two years of Tony Blair's government.

The DFEE report contains a mass of other figures, including the size of thedepartment's own payroll (pound;148m). It reveals that 55 per cent of its headquarters staff are women, 8 per cent are from ethnic minorities and 6 per cent are disabled.

Overall, DFEE running costs (excluding the Employment Service) are predicted to level out at around pound;252m over the next three years.

But staff can expect the pips to be further squeezed, thanks to a departmental commitment to annual efficiency savings of 2.5 per cent, and to reducing sickness rates by a fifth.

The costs of new agencies being set up as a result of government policies are also revealed.

Start-up costs for the General Teaching Council are expected to run to pound;16m over the next three years, while the Disability Rights Council - which starts work this month - is on pound;11m a year. Chairman Bert Massie is taking home pound;65,600 a year, while chief executive Bob Niven will be on slightly more, at pound;69,650.

While the report concentrates on policies and targets drawn up by Labour, one long-term goal set by the previous Tory administration proved wide of the mark: the department has failed to hit its "green" targets for reducing energy consumption, managing only a 3.2 per cent reduction. The aim of achieving a 20 per cent reduction, set 10 years ago, "proved over-optimistic", says the report.

Departmental Report, The Government's Expenditure Plans from 2000-01 to 2001 02 is published by Department for Education and Employment and the Office for Standards in Education. For copies, telephone 0870 600 5522. EDUCATION SPENDING

"Underlying" pound;2 billion increase in education spending.

Total spending on education in England in 1999-2000 was expected to exceed pound;32 bn.

Central government spending on education is expected to rise from pound;12.3 bn in

1999-2000 to pound;15.5 bn in 2001-02.

The cost of running the school inspection service is expected to rise from pound;97 million in 1999-2000 to pound;107m in 2001-02.

General Teaching Council start-up costs are expected to run to pound;16m over the next three years.

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