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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 13:15 GMT
Adding up Brown's schools money
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

In his pre-budget report, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced 36bn of capital investment in schools - or did he?

It might seem churlish to look a gift horse in the mouth, but past experience with the wily chancellor suggests a quick check of the teeth is prudent once the cheers have died down.

The headlines ran: 36bn of capital investment in schools by 2010-11.

Gordon Brown
The pre-Budget report will be Mr Brown's 10th

Yes - but most of that had been announced already. What was new was a rather smaller 2.2bn.

That is still a considerable increase. Indeed, it has been pointed out that it is more than total capital spending was when Labour took office.

So, in the words of the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, "generous extra investment".

But then it does have to cover a lot of ground (already announced): improving at least half of all primary schools, refurbishing all secondary schools, building academies, improving kitchens and providing technology.

'Aspiration'

In the Commons, the chancellor said: "In the next four years a cumulative investment in education alone of 36bn - matching by 2010 state school capital investment per pupil to private schools as year by year we close the overall gap."

In the last Budget, he set this out as an aspiration. You would be forgiven for understanding this to mean that, by 2010, state schools would have the same level of capital investment as independent schools.

But what it means is, matching what independent schools already spend.

He then went on: "Our goal is: 12,000 new or completely refurbished schools - half of all primary schools and 90 per cent of all secondary schools benefiting four million children each year, in addition 100 colleges rebuilt serving one million students, and in total 3,500 new children's centres for nearly three million boys and girls."

'Something for nothing?'

Quite a list. And because he had already mentioned 2010 and a four-year investment of 36bn, you might have formed the impression that all the work would be completed by then.

This is not the case. When the secondary school refurbishment programme was first announced some years ago now, it was to take "10 to 15 years".

It soon became clear it was actually 15 years. And that it would not start until last year. We could be looking at 2020, all being well.

If your daughter has just started at a secondary school with a crumbling science block, don't bank on its being replaced by the time she starts her GCSEs.

Mr Johnson said the money "enables the government to press ahead" with its plans.

Next came the chancellor's payments direct to head teachers "to be used in the way local schools think best".

Windfalls

He was going to increase the previously announced grant next year from 39,000 for the typical primary school to 50,000, and from 150,000 for a secondary school to 200,000.

Nice windfalls for head teachers to spend as they wish.

Not so fast. To spend as they wish, the Treasury documents make clear, "including to support personalised teaching" - something schools are being required to do as a matter of national policy.

Well, OK, they can spend the rest as they wish.

The documentation adds: "and extended services" - the government's requirement for all schools to be community hubs, open from 8am to 6pm.

It was all classic Gordon Brown. He was being generous - but not that generous, and certainly not giving something for nothing.




SEE ALSO
MPs question Brown schools pledge
26 Oct 06 |  Education
Cash 'not just to renew schools'
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Chancellor gives books to pupils
06 Dec 06 |  Education
School rebuilding pledge queried
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In quotes: Schools spending
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