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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 17:31 GMT
Beware Brown's schools rhetoric
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown: Head teachers will want to see the small print
Gordon Brown is a master of Budget rhetoric on education.

He has put a lot more money into the system.

But he has sometimes given the impression he is doing more than he is.

His headline-catching announcement about getting state school funding up to the level of the private sector is a case in point.

'Objective'

It would be easy to have been left with the sense that he said he would do just that.

But he did not.

He said it should be "our long-term aim".

We should "agree an objective ... that, stage by stage ... we raise average investment per pupil to today's private school level."

So in fact all Mr Brown said was he would like people to agree that at some future point - unspecified - state school pupils might have the sort of support those in the private sector have.

The sort of support private pupils already have, that is.

Investment

He could start "immediately" by "closing today's gap" in capital investment, he said.

The wording almost gives the impression he has actually done it.

But in fact what he then proposed was that, in five years' time, annual investment per child would typically be 1,000 - matching what private schools spend.

That is, what private schools already spend.

With fees in the independent sector consistently outstripping inflation, what might they be spending by 2011?

Not only that, the money involved was not exactly new.

Mr Brown referred to "a total of 34bn new investment over five years" for England.

The Department for Education and Skills said: "It's new in the sense that this is money that's guaranteed to come to us.

"But we had always anticipated we would get that money. That's what we based our spending plans on," a spokeswoman said.

Heard it before

And Gordon Brown's aim of matching the private sector is not new either.

In April 2001 Tony Blair told a teachers' union conference much the same thing.

He said his aim was "to get to the situation where we have a state education system that is as good in its facilities and investment as the independent sector".

At the time, the Department for Education said an average of 3,690 was being spent per pupil in state secondary schools.

The average fees for an independent day school were 5,800 per year, according to the Independent Schools Information Service.

In a sense - with state school funding now 5,000 a year, according to the Chancellor - Mr Blair's ambition has almost been met.

But of course, the independent sector has moved on.

It is now spending 8,000 a year, Mr Brown told us.

The Food Standards Agency chose Budget Day to warn us to consume less salt.

But head teachers and parents are likely to take Mr Brown's announcements with a pinch of the recommended daily allowance.




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