Tags: Bursar | Funding | Headteacher | PFI | School Business Manager | School Financial Management

The Chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, has announced a major injection of funds into education as part of his budget statement, but his critics dispute the amount by which spending is really set to rise.

Direct funding to schools for tuition, teachers and teacher support has been increased by £270m in 2006-07 and by £440m next year. This means that the average secondary school will receive over £50,000 more this year and a further £40,000 more in 2007-08. The largest secondary schools will receive £365,000 this year and £500,000 next year, almost doubling their 2005-06 figure. The chancellor also announced rises in capital expenditure and pledged to raise average investment per pupil in state schools to the same level as the private sector.

Mr Brown declared that ‘investing in education comes first’ and ‘investing in education is this year’s budget choice’. However, as in previous years, educationalists and government critics have signalled that much of the new money has in fact already been announced and that it is difficult to see how certain pledges will be funded.

Capital expenditure

Mr Brown emphasised the size of increases in money for buildings and equipment. He said: ‘In the coming five years investment in schools will rise from £5.6bn today to reach £8bn a year – a 50% rise, making a total of £34bn new investment over five years.’ However, an increase to £6.4bn in 2007-08 had already been announced, meaning that capital expenditure would only rise by £1.6bn in subsequent years, not the £2.4bn his figures might suggest.

Alissa Goodman of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that this rise would only amount to £1bn after inflation, and that capital expenditure would be going up by less than half the rate it did during Labour’s first eight years in government – by 4.9% as opposed to 10.9%. She commented: ‘What the new spending plans imply is a step down in capital spending from the first eight years of the Labour government rather than a step up, which is what the impression might have been from the chancellor’s words.’

And since the figures for the next two years, totalling 12.3bn, had already been announced, the ‘new’ investment over the next five years really amounts to £21.7bn, not the £34bn trumpeted by the chancellor.

Matching private sector funding

Another major announcement came in the form of a pledge that the amount of money spent on students in state schools will match that spent on those in private institutions. This echoed a similar aspiration outlined by the prime minister, Tony Blair, in 2001, and matched Mr Blair’s aspiration in its vagueness in that there was no timetable for change set out. The IFS has pointed out that Mr Brown’s pledge only amounts to saying that the government will raise the amount spent on state school students to the amount currently spent on those in private schools at some indefinite point in the future.

According to the IFS, Mr Brown’s plans would raise spending in the state sector to £5,600 per student in 2011, still £2,400 short of the £8,000 per student currently provided in the private sector. The IFS estimates that matching private sector spending would require a further £17bn of additional funding – something that would take 16 years to achieve if spending grows only in line with the economy.

Science education

The chancellor announced plans for ‘recruitment, retraining, retention andreward of 3,000 science teachers’. However, speaking on 27 March in the House of Commons, Barry Sheerman MP, chairman of the Education and Skills Select Committee, said that he had ‘combed through all the relevant documents’ and could not find the money for it. He asked whether the money for them was part of £18m announced to support teaching and learning in science. ‘If so,’ he said, ‘that amount just sounds a bit small.’ The government has yet to reply to Mr Sheerman’s question.

The budget also announced funding for 250 after-school science clubs, but it did not make any announcement on refurbishment of school science laboratories. In early March Dr John Dunford, leader of the Association of School and College Lecturers, denounced the government for breaking an election pledge to invest £250m in refurbishing labs. Science minister Lord Sainsbury had told him that the money would come from the Building Schools for the Futures (BSF) scheme, which contains commitments to ‘to build or modernise all secondary school science laboratories over the next 10-15 years.’ This means that it is not extra funding at all.

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb, speaking on what he called a crisis in science teaching in this country, said: ‘These broken promises over school laboratory funding will simply compound the problem.’

However, Lord Sainsbury, said that the government was considering whether funding was sufficient and that it was possible that there would be a bid for more money in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

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