Will Gordon's pound;15bn gamble pay off?

The Chancellor has given schools the huge funding increase they desperately wanted - but how will he ensure the extra billions make a difference? Jon Slater reports

Friends and foes of the Government are putting a very different spin on Gordon's great cash giveaway.

Ministers have been keen to hype the extra money the Chancellor gave to schools and other services in this week's comprehensive spending review - which set all public spending for the next three years. They are desperate to convince the public that the tax rises announced in April's Budget are worthwhile.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, see an unmissable chance to put clear blue water between themselves and Labour. They hope that the Government will fail to deliver and the public will turn back to them and to lower taxes, angry that billions of pounds of their money have been wasted.

The Government's supposed number-one priority, education, has been a big winner in the spending review and ministers will want to see results for the money. But they face two key problems: how best to distribute the largess and how to show taxpayers that their money is not being wasted without antagonising teachers.

Heads are wary of talk of a funding bonanza.The last spending review in 2000 delivered education budget increases very similar to those promised this week. Yet headteachers complain that much of that extra money did not reach schools. They also protest that their freedom to spend any cash that reached them was severely restricted because it was tied to specific government initiatives.

"The Government must ensure that the money reaches schools. We have had too many false dawns in the past three years," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association.

Ministers have opted to do this by increasing the money given directly to schools, bypassing local authorities which have been accused of hanging on to cash.

But primary schools are unhappy with the way this grant is being distributed, saying it unfairly favours secondaries. "We have primary schools, some with more than 600 pupils on roll, which will receive pound;10,000 additional funding. However, secondary schools, some that have fewer than 600 pupils on roll, will receive pound;50,000. How can that be an equitable settlement?" asked June Brown, secretary of the National Primary Headteachers' Association.

As a result of the increase in direct grants from central government, local authorities will get only pound;4 billion of the pound;8bn extra going to the Department for Education and Skills. With a new council funding system due in the autumn this may not be enough to guarantee that no local education authority loses out.

What happens when the money reaches schools? On Monday, Gordon Brown made devolving decision-making and responsibility one of the key themes of his speech.

Yet the next day Education Secretary Estelle Morris sounded a tougher, interventionist note. Bad heads should be sacked and low-attaining schools would only get extra money if they adopted Government-sponsored action plans.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Governors have been getting rid of heads who are not up to scratch for at least the past five years. This is nothing new."

Ms Morris took a similarly tough line over workload. Schools would not get their direct grants unless unions agreed to new contracts and new roles for classroom assistants. "Teachers are over-burdened not because of too much reform, but too little," reads the DFES document explaining the policy, released on Tuesday.

Those on the ground faced with new targets for 12-year-olds, GCSE results and even school sport might disagree.

But it is in both sides' interest to make this work. Commentators are almost unanimous in portraying this review as the "last chance" for big spending on public services.

If parents do not see real improvements by 2006, when spending should be 50 per cent per pupil higher than it was in 1997, the public is unlikely to tolerate more spending. Ms Morris herself admitted that there would be "no excuses" if the money failed to bring improvement.

Despite the fact that key New Labour luminaries Peter Mandelson and David Puttnam had demanded bigger increases, teacher unions are clearly pleased with the settlement.

But that does not mean that they are ready to roll over and do ministers'

bidding. "It is our job to ensure that the Government spends the money in the right way to tackle the teacher shortage crisis and school discipline," said John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

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