Conservative Manifesto promises per-pupil cuts in school funding
Yesterday's announcement promised £1 billion extra a year for the core schools budget, made up of £650 million diverted from free infant lunches and £336 million to offset the effect of the new funding formula. Let's be clear: this isn't as big a cut in per pupil funding as previously planned but it is still represents huge cuts for schools.
This February the Institute of Fiscal Studies' report on school spending stated "From 2015–16 onwards, school spending per pupil has been frozen in cash terms, which is likely to translate into a real-terms reduction of around 6.5% between 2015–16 and 2019–20". The IFS state total spending on schools in England in 2015-16 as £37 billion (in 2016–17 prices).
A reduction of 6.5% therefore represents £2.4 billion. The Tory promise of £1 billion more is still a reduction of £1.4 billion in the 2019-20 funding, from the real-terms per-pupil standstill figure.
Indeed that could be an underestimate. The National Audit Office talked about a £3 billion shortfall by 2019, meaning that the Conservative promise would be for £2 billion of cuts.
A vote for the Conservatives is still a vote for cuts to individual schools, increased class sizes and teacher redundancies.
The £336 million to protect schools facing reductions due to the new funding formula sounded like a very positive measure. However Schools Week astutely pointed out that this is only to protect them in cash terms, not real terms. With current levels of inflation that means schools could face each year a 2.7% real-terms reduction as the funding formula is introduced.
And "real-terms" figures tend to understate the issue as schools have faced higher rises in their own costs than the RPI. Geoff Barton, the new General Secretary of the ASCL, told TES: "We calculate that the schools budget would need to increase by a total of between £6 billion and £7 billion to counter the impact of rising costs and implement the planned National Funding Formula in a way which is truly equitable."
So we have £1 billion of funding (mostly taken from existing school budgets) against a need for £6 to £7 billion.
This election offers a clear choice
In the 2015 election the Conservatives faced no pressure, on school funding, from a Labour party committed to continuing austerity. The Conservatives promised to increase school spending in line with rising pupil numbers, but only in cash terms. Labour promised to increase school spending in line with inflation, but not in line with increasing pupil numbers. As I noted here, these would have had roughly the same effect. A Miliband government would have meant similar cuts to those that schools are facing now.
The Conservatives fought the 2015 election with a promise to cut per-pupil school funding and delivered on that promise.
In the 2017 election the Conservatives are faced with a Labour Party committed to an end to austerity to fully funding education. Whatever people say about Corbyn, he (along with the campaigners across the country) should be given credit for a commitment that has pushed the Tories to at least promise some extra funding for schools. That is one concrete benefit of this election taking place.
But let's be clear: Theresa May promised yesterday to continue to cut per-pupil funding for schools, just to cut it less than she was planning to before. Labour, on the other hand, has committed to fully funding schools.