Blair fails to head off rebellion over school budget cuts

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair appeared to have failed last night to ward off a rebellion by head teachers angry over cuts to their school budgets. Heads will warn ministers today they will pull out of a deal to reduce teachers' workloads within the next year unless they are given cast-iron guarantees of enough extra money to finance it.

Tony Blair appeared to have failed last night to ward off a rebellion by head teachers angry over cuts to their school budgets. Heads will warn ministers today they will pull out of a deal to reduce teachers' workloads within the next year unless they are given cast-iron guarantees of enough extra money to finance it.

The move comes despite a speech by Mr Blair at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Cardiff in which he raised the prospect of a new, three-year, budget deal.

The Prime Minister offered guaranteed increases in funding each year and more "sin bins'' to stop struggling inner city schools becoming dumping grounds for unruly pupils.

The head teachers' stance threatens a confrontation with Labour over school funding in the middle of a general election campaign.

In a speech widely seen as an attempt to shift the national focus on to education in advance of the local and European elections in June, Mr Blair made it clear, to warm applause from heads, that schools would be given three-year budgets for the first time.

The move will be spelled out in a document to be published by the Department for Education and Skills in July, which will provide the centrepiece for Labour's next election manifesto on education.

Mr Blair made it clear in his speech that his passion for education was "unwavering".

"Education was, is, and will continue to be the top priority for as long as we are in office," he said. "We haven't come this far to put it all at risk now."

As a first step, he promised Labour would increase spending per pupil in state schools by more than 20 per cent within three years - from £4,500 to £5,500.

He admitted there had been difficulties with school funding under Labour which had caused "some serious problems", adding: "We accept that budgetary security and autonomy has not been sufficient in the past.

"One of the greatest difficulties for schools, as the last two years have shown, is to plan ahead not knowing from year to year what their budgets will be," he added.

Mr Blair won more applause when he turned to discipline and promised further action to exclude disruptive pupils from schools.

"When it comes to the most seriously disruptive excluded pupils, we can not carry on passing them around from school to school - with some of the schools in the most difficult circumstances being a dumping ground for the most difficult cases," he said.

"You, us, the local education authorities, must continue to address how we ensure excluded pupils get proper education without damaging the education of others, where necessary outside schools."

Mr Blair also indicated the July, three-year deal would spell out details of a new pilot project bringing in part-time, early years education for two-year-olds in deprived areas.

"There will be a new frontier for the welfare state and the education system, bringing together education and care," he said.

David Hart, the general secretary of the NAHT, welcomed Mr Blair's promise of a move to three-year school budgets. "Providing the money is right, this should give schools the stability and opportunity to plan more effectively than they can under the present system,'' he said.

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