15 years of education planned for all

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The Independent Online

A £9.4bn bonanza to smarten up primary schools - to be spent over the next five years in rebuilding or refurbishing 8,900 of them - was promised by the Chancellor yesterday.

A £9.4bn bonanza to smarten up primary schools - to be spent over the next five years in rebuilding or refurbishing 8,900 of them - was promised by the Chancellor yesterday.

The move, which follows a similar pledge to refurbish all secondary schools before the last election, was one of a series of announcements boosting spending on early years education. Gordon Brown said the Government's aim was "education from the age of three that is nationwide, of high quality and available to all". He promised that from 2007 every three-year-old would be entitled to a minimum of 15 hours a week in a nursery school.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said the primary school repairs package was "the most significant building and repairs package since the Victorian era". It would help enable all schools to provide schooling from 8am to 6pm, thus providing childcare for working parents after school.

In addition, Mr Brown said that spending on computers and technology would be raised to £1.67bn within three years. In 1997 the amount spent per pupil was £100, but that would rise to £1,000 by 2010, he said, signalling that schools were no longer about "blackboard and chalk" but "computers and electronic whiteboards".

The measures were given a cautious welcome by teachers' leaders, although they were dismissed by the Conservatives as "all talk".

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "I welcome Gordon Brown's commitment to funding the renewal of primary school buildings but I hope this optimism is not undermined by double counting and spin. I hope that this time what you see is what you get."

Other pledges on education made by Mr Brown included raising to £75-a-week maintenance allowances that aim to persuade more 17- to 18-year-olds to stay on at school or in full-time training.

He said that universal education for all five to 16-year-olds had been established in 1972. "But for 30 years, as the world has moved on, the span and reach of education have remained the same. With global competition it is essential - and with the financial support I am offering - our goal should be now that children not only start education at three but continue in education and training until 18 - not 11 years of learning as in the past but 15 years."

To take the expected extra pupils, Mr Brown offered increased funding for further education colleges, increasing capital investment from the current level of £100m a year to £150m in 2007/08.

He also promised to increase the cash grants given by Government direct to schools, raising them from £30,000 to £36,000 for a typical primary school next year and from £96,000 to £115,000 for a typical secondary school. "No payments direct to headteachers existed before 1997," Mr Brown said.

Overall, spending on education would increase by £12bn over the next 12 months, the Chancellor said.

Tim Collins, the Tory education spokesman, said a close inspection of budget documents indicated the figures were "a broad indication only". "The figures are dodgy," he said. "He states the amount available to schools is a 'guarantee' but this is not true."

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