Kelly says target for spending on schools 'is more like an aspiration'

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Indy Politics

Spending on children in state education may not be raised to the level of those in private schools until after today's state pupils have left school, it has emerged.

The centrepiece of Gordon Brown's Budget on Wednesday was an ambitious goal to raise annual spending per head on state school pupils from £5,000 to the £8,000 enjoyed by those in the private sector.

But Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, told Labour MPs in a briefing on the Budget that the promise was "aspirational."

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank said the pledge would cost £17bn if forecasts of 7.2 million school children by 2010-2011 proved correct.

Alissa Goodman of the IFS said: "That would be an awful lot of money to raise in one go from a tax rise, but the Chancellor has set this out as a long-term aim rather than an immediate goal. Mr Brown's aspiration to close the gap between state and private sector funding is ambitious if it is to be achieved for current school children."

In its post-Budget briefing, the IFS branded the move "a promise without a timetable" and said that if education spending grew in line with the economy, it could take up to 16 years to achieve.

The IFS warned that investment in schools was slowing despite Mr Brown's pledge to boost capital spending by £34bn over five years.

It said the Budget meant capital spending in 2010-11 would in only be £1.6bn higher than the £6.4bn previously announced for 2007-08.

Ms Goodman added that the Chancellor had already announced capital spending on schools for the next two years worth £12.3bn, lowering the new investment pledged in the Budget from £34bn to £21.7bn.

Yesterday Mr Brown acknowledged that his promise to raise spending on state school pupils to the level of their private school counterparts was a "long-term ambition".

He said that achieving it would depend on the performance of the economy. "Of course our aspiration is a big one and it will be dependent on the decisions that we make about economic growth," he said.

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