NHS and schools face winter crisis

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The Independent Online
Memorandum to David Blunkett - Secretary of State for Education: You told headteachers at their conference last month that Gordon Brown would be an "education chancellor". Teachers ultimately hope this proves to be a more accurate tag than the "iron chancellor".

At the same meeting headteachers' leader David Hart warned of a pounds 4bn "black hole" in education spending, leaving Britain's schools system lagging far behind other countries'. He said that the sum, plus extra to cover inflation and pay rises, would remedy teacher and book shortages and crumbling buildings and would underpin Labour's manifesto pledge to raise the proportion of national income spent on education over the course of a five-year Parliament.

With a two-year freeze on public spending levels, teachers' leaders know that, in reality, such a windfall is less likely than a rollover lottery win. However, there is still cash to play for. Although the total government grant to local authorities is fixed for next year, the share designated for education is not.

The Local Government Association is finalising a bid for the 1998-9 spending round seeking 2.7 per cent extra - around pounds 500m - plus inflation for education.

Though schools' voices may be heard loudest, there is also pressure from the pounds 3 billion-a-year further education sector. The Association of Colleges' submission ahead of the spending round highlights how - under Tory-set spending limits - resources for further education will shrink over the next three years, leading to cuts in courses and student numbers.

If overall national education spending remains static, redistribution of funds between sectors may be one option, as proposed by Josh Hillman, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Training and enterprise councils, colleges and school sixth forms - all funded under different systems - often duplicate work and this could be an area to look at.