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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Education wary of chancellor's gifts
head teacher
Head teachers can always use more money
Education is the priority in the spending review - but those at the sharp end will want to see the small print before applauding.


People in education have become more sceptical about Labour's announcements of more money.

In New Labour's first term, the Department for Education was fond of re-announcing the same funding - sometimes more than once.

What's more, overall totals were often not spread among all schools or education authorities - they were pots of money that had to be bid for, so many schools never saw a thing.

Or sums were targeted on specific areas.

For example, 1bn has been put into getting better information technology into schools in England.

But this cannot be used for anything else.

Salary increases

So a school might now have new computers worth tens of thousands of pounds - but if what it really needed was some books or replacement windows, then its demand for extra funding is unchanged.

I wish they said, 'This is brilliant, the money is showering down on us, we have never had it so good'

Education secretary, Estelle Morris
It also has the worry of how it is going to afford to maintain all the new kit.

And there has been a lot more for teachers' salaries - but again schools do not see this as extra money.

If you had 30 teachers and they all got a pay rise, then "education" has had more funding - from a national perspective - but your school still has the same number of teachers.

Ongoing improvement

Most experienced teachers in England and Wales did get a 2,000 pay rise under the government's new performance-related pay structure.

But the government has since provided only 80% of the money needed for those teachers to progress to the next rung on the pay ladder for continuing high performance.

This brought head teachers to the point of unprecedented strike action, and is still a running sore in schools.

So again, in funding terms, schools have been left saying they are not getting enough.

Money unspent

And then there is the notorious underspend. Bizarrely, the education department seems incapable of spending all the money the Treasury has given it.

Its most senior official, permanent secretary David Normington, told a Commons committee a couple of weeks ago that the underspend was 1.3bn - which one MP said was "equivalent to 600,000 per secondary school across the country".

Mr Normington said much of this was for the Sure Start programme, which was "ring fenced" so it could not be spent on anything else.

Local schemes had taken longer to get going than expected.

Similarly with money for capital works - they had taken longer to implement than expected.

Anger

A Labour MP - and school governor - Valerie Davey, said: "Many of these school governors are volunteers, with huge financial problems, in their perspective, and are really angry at what they are reading and seeing.

"Do you not understand how difficult it makes life for the voluntary school governor, doing the best for their school, who learns about 1.3bn.

"They are desperate for just enough money for another teacher?"

Mr Normington said he did understand.

"I have been to school governor meetings, so that I have experienced that myself, and of course a lot of our staff are school governors as well.

"All we can do is go on trying to explain it."

Not seen as money

His boss, the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, later told the committee that if she said to head teachers, did they not have more money than in 1997? they replied "Yes, but."

She had learned that they did not see capital spending as money.

The other factor was that most had used new money to create teaching posts, which then became part of their baseline for the following year.

"So your next year's spending commitment actually ignores the extra money you put in for increasing staff in the previous year," she said.

"So I wish they said, 'This is brilliant, the money is showering down on us, we have never had it so good'.

"I do not expect them to say that, but these days I rarely find anybody who says their financial position has not improved since 1997."

Use of language

This trap for the government was illustrated by the response to what Gordon Brown said about education in his Budget speech earlier this year.

He used language that echoed the words he had used when he first announced direct grants, straight to head teachers, to spend as they wished on driving up standards.

He left them with the impression that they were getting more of the same.

What he was "announcing" was, however, largely built into their budgets already.

The result is that they are not getting anything like as much as they had thought - which has left a bad taste.

And that is why they will think twice before applauding anything Mr Brown says on Monday.

The government's plans for future spending are published on 15 July

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See also:

30 May 02 | Education
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