Gordon Brown won praise for delivering an "education Budget" last night as he set out a five-year plan aimed at raising state school spending to the level in private schools.
The Chancellor's plan would give schools £34bn to help them employ extra teachers, improve equipment and reduce class sizes. Mr Brown made it clear he was making the investment in education as opposed to cutting taxes because "investment in education comes first".
He told MPs: "In private schools there is one teacher for every nine pupils compared with one teacher for every 16 in state secondary schools."
Currently private schools spent £8,000 per pupil, compared with £5,000 in state schools, figures show.
"Our long-term aim should be to ensure for 100 per cent of our children the educational support now available to just 10 per cent [in the private sector]," he said.
"So to improve pupil-teacher ratios and the quality of our education, we should agree an objective for our country that stage by stage ... we raise average investment per pupil to today's private school level."
As a first step, secondary schools will receive direct payments totalling £440m next week. This will mean each individual headteacher getting £150,000 - an increase of £52,000 on this year - to spend as he or she wishes. The figure will rise to £190,000 next year, thus almost doubling over a two-year period.
The figure for primary schools will rise from £31,000 to £44,000.
Mr Brown also announced a significant boost to science teaching, with funds to recruit, retrain or reward 3,000 extra.
In addition, there would be funding for after-school catch-up classes for pupils struggling to learn the subject. Schools would also be ranked on their performance in science in exam league tables. At present, the Government is only proposing to single out maths and English results. " Every advanced industrial country knows that falling behind in science and mathematics means falling behind in commerce and prosperity," said Mr Brown.
Other measures to boost spending include further direct grants paid to schools to develop personal learning plans for individual pupils - with extra tuition to help stretch the brightest pupils if they want it.
Investment in school buildings will also increase by £1.6bn to £8bn by 2010-11.
The Chancellor said he wanted to create "a national consensus around a rising share of investment in education".
The package was welcomed by Britain's biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, as a sign that the Chancellor had produced "an education Budget". Steve Sinnott, its general secretary, added: "I welcome his commitment to increase the number of science teachers. Britain's future depends on a healthy science base."
Union leaders had been privately told to brace themselves for a slackening-off in government investment in education as a result of the next round of the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review - which will cover the years 2008-09 to 2010-11. However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Budget was "a welcome sign" that the commitment to increased funding would continue.
The world of science was particularly pleased at the measures to improve take-up of the subject in schools. Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said the measures "send a clear message to schools, colleges and the broader education community that science really is a priority and gives the science community a set of goals to concentrate their efforts around".
Ministers have said they want to achieve a 44 per cent increase in the number of A-level physics students by 2014 and an 11 per cent increase in chemistry.
However, a note of dissent was sounded by Reform, the right of centre think-tank.
Andrew Haldenby, its director, said it was a major mistake to see "a massive transfer of resources into an unreformed public sector".
The think-tank said the injection of extra cash was proof that earlier substantial increases in education spending had failed to deliver the increase in standards demanded by the Government.
"Extra spending might be justifiable if it were preceded by a major programme of reform," Mr Haldenby added. "But reform has proceeded most slowly in education of all the major public services."
Case Study, Teacher: 'The government is right to target science'
Ralph Surman is a 40-year-old deputy headteacher at Cantrell primary school in Nottingham.
Lives He is a single parent with three children, aged 12, nine and five, who lives in Arnold, near Nottingham.
Company benefits He earns £43,611 but there are no company benefits. Government benefits include a teacher's pension to which he pays about £190 a year.
Outgoings He has no child care costs as his family look after his children. He does about 13,000 miles a year in his Nissan Almera 1300, does not smoke and drinks about 14 pints a week and the "odd bottle of white wine". His mortgage is £66,000 and council tax repayments are £100 a month. Gas bills are £28 a month.
Politics He voted Labour in last year's general election and Liberal Democrat in the local elections. Will probably vote Labour again. "I remember the Conservatives when we were having 300 teacher redundancies a year at times," he said.
Hopes for Budget "I'd like an increase in the child allowance. I want to maintain my standard of living. I've no problems about raising tax to pay for public services. I don't want beer to go up or fuel, because of the amount of driving I do."
Effect of the Budget He will be about £203 better off this year. Changes to income tax would benefit him by £225 a year, but he loses out by £63 thanks to National Insurance alterations. As a beer drinker he will pay £7 a year more in duty.
Reaction "I welcome the extra money for education, and the government have got it right by targeting science. But in order to show value for expenditure, science will taught with targets for 11-year-olds, so we won't really equip our children with the skills they need, rather they will learn for the SAT tests.
"The increased money to both primary and secondary schools is good, since 1998, there has been such a change because there is more money in schools."Reuse content