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Windfall after seven-year famine

Case study 2: Redcar and Cleveland

Keith Burton doesn't want to crow. But he's been a senior education officer for seven years, and this is the first time his budget has grown.

As Redcar and Cleveland's director of education, his pot will be 6 per cent up this year - 10 per cent if you include the cash the authority is getting back with the abolition of nursery vouchers.

Heads say that is enough not only to cover inflation and pay rises but to put right the past two years' worth of cuts - and give an extra Pounds 20 for every pupil in key stage 2.

The urban authority - formerly part of Cleveland County Council - is one of the winners as the Labour Government redraws the funding map and carries out its promise of a fairer settlement for cities. Its education standard spending assessment is up 5.9 per cent, well above the national average given that its school rolls are static.

And the authority - Labour majority 37 - has risen to the Government's challenge. Across the board it may face cuts of Pounds 3.4 million with services such as housing slashed by up to 10 per cent. Yet education has not only managed to hang on to its inflated SSA but been given an extra Pounds 450,000 - the first installment of councillors' three-year plan to boost education by Pounds 1.2m over and above inflation.

When you consider that last year Redcar and Cleveland had the fourth-worst education standard spending assessment in the country at less than 1 per cent, it's easy to understand the quiver of excitement in Keith Burton's voice.

"If you take account of all the teachers' pay award, plus partial award last year, plus inflation, we've still got 3 per cent extra to spend. It means we can crack on with all the things the Government wants us to do," he says.

"We'll be able to support a standards fund programme twice as big as the previous year even though we have to find 50 per cent in matching funding. "

That programme will include measures to bring down truancy and exclusions and put more money into the junior school years, which heads increasingly argue are underfunded. The latter measure was supported by all heads in the authority. "Secondary heads realise that if key stage 2 isn't right it compounds the problems they face," Mr Burton says.

He admits the cuts in other services are painful. But members recognise education is the key to regenerating a depressed area where the council is now the biggest employer.

"It's not money that we have to scratch our heads thinking how to spend, " added Mr Burton.

Nicolas Barnard

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