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EDITIONS
Budget 2001 Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 18:39 GMT
Great expectations only partly met
graphic
By BBC education correspondent Mike Baker

So Gordon Brown has pulled another rabbit out of the hat for education. But it drew fewer gasps than his earlier tricks.

For, although a 1bn increase is substantial, it is far less dazzling than the 12bn-sized rabbit the chancellor pulled out of his comprehensive spending review hat last July.

In one sense, then, the chancellor is a victim of his own success: People now expect a substantial increase for schools.

But Labour is still having to sprint hard to make up for its slow start on education spending. By accepting the Conservatives' spending plans - which the Tories might well have increased if re-elected - Labour held a very tight grip on the spending strings in its first two years.

So, although recent increases have been spectacular, Labour is only just going to meet its promise to increase education spending as a share of national income.

Popular move

Education spending as a share of gross domestic product actually fell in its first two years. However it should now rise to just over 5% of GDP next year compared to 4.7% in the last year of the Tory government.

The Budget has also maintained the pattern of passing more money directly to schools rather than via local councils or through specific government grants.

This has proved very popular with head teachers who argue they are the people best placed to decide how to spend any extra money.

By 2004-5, if Labour is still in power, a typical secondary school will receive 130,000 of its budget in direct grant to spend on staffing, books or buildings as the head teacher thinks fit.

While this is not as far as the Tories' "free schools" policy would go in by-passing local councils, it does represent a significant shift in the way school money is distributed.

So it is a crisis

The 200m for teacher recruitment should have one significant effect: It will no longer be possible for ministers to deny there is a recruitment crisis.

After all, they would not have been able to win this sort of money from the notoriously prudent Mr Brown unless they had been able to convince him there really was a problem.

This Budget, of course, reminds us that a general election is not far off. Education spending now looks set to be an important issue on the hustings.

Labour will warn that this extra money is dependent on their winning re-election, while the Conservatives will promise to make the money go much further by cutting out local council bureaucracy.

The Liberal Democrats will attempt to trump them both by again promising an extra penny on tax if it is needed to fund education properly.


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