Of strings and hoops

17th July 1998 at 01:00
Let us not equivocate. The Chancellor's announcement that Pounds 19 billion more will be spent on education over the next three years is good news for schools and colleges. True, the proportion of national income Mr Brown promises for education may be barely above the 4.8 per cent of the Major government's last year. But this is the best deal schools have had for a long time, and instant compensation for all the years of underinvestment is unrealistic.

Official estimates of the extra money local authorities should spend on education over the next three years are substantially above projected inflation. This contrasts with much smaller rises for most other council services. As schools know to their cost, however, what goes in at one end of the funding system does not always come out at the other in school budgets. The fear now may be that after years of propping up school budgets at the expense of other services or out of reserves, local authorities will use the comparatively generous funding for education to repay a few debts or to finance their new responsibilities.

The immediate speculation is whether rises in school spending of between 5.7 and 6.1 per cent a year over the next three years imply a succession of above-inflation salary increases for teachers. This is especially so since other plans such as additional teachers to reduce infant class sizes and Internet connections for every school seem to come from other pockets. Meanwhile, last week's Department for Education and Employment teacher supply assumptions contained no improvement in secondary staffing standards to account for such extra funding.

David Blunkett understands how important teacher recruitment, retention and morale are in fulfilling the Government's pledges on education. In spite of Mr Brown's efforts to discount a public sector pay bonanza, when the Education and Employment Secretary was asked about pay rises for teachers he talked about "money for modernisation".

More money for education, then; and more for teachers. But with strings. Schools and local authorities will increasingly find themselves jumping through hoops to meet Government targets to justify bids for centrally-held funds. And the teachers' pay review body will also play a crucial role, in spite of the employers' wish to do away with it. It will now also be expected to help the Government keep its promises not only on spending but also on raising achievement.

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