Schools promised £36bn refit

The government today announced extra investment of £36 billion to provide new school buildings and upgrade colleges and university facilities.

In his pre- Budget report, chancellor Gordon Brown also announced an extra £130 million of extra direct payments to schools to support personalised learning and extended services, such as out of school clubs.

This funding, which schools can decide themselves how to spend, will rise to an average of £200 per pupil for primary schools and £225 per pupil for secondary schools, paid from April next year.

However, the Conservatives accused the chancellor of failing school children, saying that despite nine years of Labour spending in education, one in six schools leavers still cannot read, write or add up.

Teaching unions, while welcoming the new funding, also questioned how much of it was new money and how much was simply previous announcements repackaged.

The direct payments money will extend the ‘every child is a reader’ programme to ensure all boys and girls falling behind in reading at age six are given specialist catch-up tuition, and extend mentoring and small group tutoring in secondary schools.

In addition, Mr Brown said all children starting primary school at the age of five and moving to secondary school at 11 would receive free books – “three million books going direct to children to life the reading standards of young people”.

The chancellor said the measures, which were accompanied by new initiatives to improve adult skills in line with yesterday’s Leitch report, were an indication that “education [is] our number one priority – education first now, and into the future”.

In addition, schools will benefit from a £36 million spending boost for education infrastructure, which aims to rebuild or refurbish 12,000 schools and 100 colleges, and set up 3,500 new children’s centres serving three million youngsters.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) welcomed the announcement as the “best bit of news we have had since Labour came to power” and congratulated Mr Brown on a “significant step” towards matching state school funding with the private sector.

General secretary Steve Sinnott particularly praised the free books initiative and the direct funding, and said the decision to put money into one-to-one and small group tuition would help many children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds.

However, other unions expressed scepticism about how today’s announcements would translate into reality.

“It’s not yet clear how much of the funding is new investment or if it is money that has already been promised, but repackaged with a new ribbon,” said John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

But he said: “The chancellor has promised an increase in funding directly to front line services and we welcome this announcement. This is money that can be spent by those who know best how to do so – leaders of our schools and colleges.”

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather also questioned how much of today’s money was new, and asked whether the announcement that students who volunteer will have a cut in their university tuition fees was an admission of failure.

“New schemes to encourage people into higher education are an admission that tuition fees have deterred potential students,” she said.

“These new schemes need to be the beginning of a major rethink of tuition fees – the most damaging education policy of Labour’s time in office.”