THE Chancellor of the Exchequer this week gave the Scottish Executive valuable room for manoeuvre as it tries to grapple with education's two biggest financial headaches - paying for the McCrone inquiry's recommendations and footing the bill for school repairs.
Outlining the conclusions of the Treasury's spending review for 2001-04, Gordon Brown announced that an additional pound;43 billion would be invested in public services, with Scotland receiving pound;3.4bn extra over the three years. This represents growth north of the border of 4.4 per cent in real terms each year, according to the Scotland Office.
Overall UK education spending is set to rise from pound;45.8bn this year to pound;57.7bn, the Chancellor said, which represents a real terms increase of 5.4 per cent a year over the three years.
Details of how the Executive intends to allocate the additional millions will not be revealed until late September when Jack McConnell, the Finance Minister, is due to present a draft budget.
The "excellence fund" set up after Labour's first spending review to support key priorities such as classroom assistants and alternatives to exclusion lasts until April 2002.
A group of senior ministers consisting of Mr McConnell, Tom McCabe, the Executive's parliamentary business manager, and Ross Finnie, Rural Affairs Minister, is scrutinising departmental bids. Two key issues will be the recommendations in the McCrone report on teacher pay and conditions - which were costed at more than pound;200 million but which councils calculate could exceed pound;500m - and an estimated bill of pound;1.3bn to upgrade school buildings.
Mr McConnell pledged to "fully utilise the extra resources available for education to deliver schools and colleges built for the needs of the 21st century, together with the teaching resources and equipment to match those facilities".
This does not mean Scotland will exactly adopt the Chancellor's package for schools in which he has decided to continue the approach taken in his March Budget and bypass English local authorities tohand extra funding directly to headteachers.
That sum will be increased from the pound;290m Budget allocation for school books and equipment in English schools to pound;540m next April. If a similar share-out is followed in Scotland, a typical primary will see its payment rise from pound;9,000 to pound;20,000 while the average secondary should receive pound;60,000 instead of pound;40,000.
Scottish ministers have already handed out some Budget cash to schools via education authorities but decided to pass on only pound;32m out of the pound;87m allocation.
The Chancellor made clear that the Government would not be departing from its policy of "money for modernisation". Secondary schools in England will be expected to have 85 per cent of 14-year-olds meeting required standards in literacy, numeracy and IT by 2007, compared with the existing target of 60 per cent.
There is no similar requirement in Scotland, although the Executive has been reviewing assessment arrangements under the 5-14 programme.
The Government is also stepping up its drive to persuade more young people to stay on at school with pound;150m a year being set aside across the UK to provide maintenance allowances worth up to pound;40 a week. The target is another 80,000 young people aged 16-18 staying on at school.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Sure Start programme which aims to make young children in the most deprived areas ready to learn when they start school is set for a major expansion. Over the next four years, 345,000 children will have been helped and the budget will rise from pound;184m a year to almost pound;500m in the UK as a whole.
As a result of the latest spending review, and depending on the decisions taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Government claims education spending as a share of national wealth will grow to 5.3 per cent.
In the last full year of the Conservative government, the figure was 4.7 per cent and Mr Brown pledged to stick with the Tories' spending plans for the first two years of the Blair administration.
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