Festive cheer for Mr Clarke

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
As rebel MPs muster their forces over university tuition fees and schools nervously await their budgets, this winter looks bleak for Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary.

Yet a cool glance at the facts shows that, at the start of 2004, the Government has some solid educational credits in the bank.

Despite last year's funding setback, schools have seen big financial gains since Labour won the 1997 election. The amount spent per pupil has risen by pound;1,000, average teachers' pay is running well ahead of inflation and there is more real-terms capital investment in schools than at any time for at least 30 years.

Mr Clarke can argue that, even if middle-class students are being asked to pay more for a degree, working-class children are now receiving more help at the time when it counts most - before they reach the age of five.

Spending on Sure Start, the support programme for under-fives and their families, will reach pound;1 billion next year.

A good time, then, to review the effect of the present funding system.

Professor Tim Brighouse's call for extra funds for children who perform worst in national tests at the ages of five and 11, which we report today, is a reminder that the Government is still struggling to fulfil its promise of a decent education for the most deprived pupils.

Truancy rates remain stubbornly unchanged and the proportion of pupils achieving five or more passes at GCSE, including English and maths, at A*-G, fell slightly this year. By contrast, the proportion achieving five good passes continues to rise.

Our survey of the erosion of free education also highlights the plight of those left behind while standards in most schools rise. No wonder increasing numbers of headteachers are calling in fundraisers when entry to the specialist schools programme depends on sponsorship.

As schools rely more on contributions from parents for books, transport and even teachers, those in the poorest parts of cities and the countryside are bound to fall further behind.

Unlike his Conservative predecessors, Tony Blair recognises that more money does mean higher standards. Of course, ministers need to sort out the level of funding so that schools really do receive the promised real-terms increase.

But they should not stop there. Until now, they have channelled extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through specific projects. They should look again at whether more systematic support is needed. Schools with a high proportion of difficult pupils should be able to pay for more and better teachers.

Even if Professor Brighouse's suggestion of ballet classes for all proves a little too imaginative for Mr Clarke, the London commissioner's case for tipping the financial balance in favour of the poorest is a powerful one.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now