Last week I tweeted my support for Ed Miliband’s promise to maintain real-terms education spending. I even suggested it made Labour #WorthVotingFor. It was only when I read the analysis the next day that I realised the promise was only to maintain the overall level in line with inflation, not to increase it in line with rising pupil numbers. So we have:
- The Conservatives have promised to increase school spending in line with rising pupil numbers, but only in cash terms. There is to be no increase for inflation.
- Labour has promised to increase school spending in line with inflation, but not in line with increasing pupil numbers.
The result in both cases is that the per-pupil funding figure, on which school funding is calculated, will fall in real terms. Under both Conservatives and Labour the budget for a school that is full is set to fall in real terms. (The one caveat on this is that Miliband stated that funding would increase “at least as much as inflation”
. It could increase more, but there is no promise that it will.)
As Sam Freedman has noted
, we can calculate the result of this, based on DfE estimates
for pupil numbers up to 2020, and Bank of England estimates
of inflation. The result is very little difference between Labour and Conservative promises, but a huge gap compared to maintaining current per-pupil spend in real terms:
This represents a shortfall gap by 2020 of £4 billion compared to maintaining current funding levels. Sam also points out
that a further billion pounds is needed for increased NI and pension costs. Including this would increase the gap to £5 billion.
This prediction is also based on the Bank of England’s forecast that inflation will return to 2% in two years. If inflation (currently 0.5%) were to remain instead at, say, 1% then the Conservative promise would actually result in higher spending than under Labour. (This analysis focuses solely on school spending, and not on other promises around pre-school and post-16 funding.)
Labour needs to commit to more
Despite the fine words of Ed Miliband this week, the promise he made is no better than that of David Cameron. Both would represent a reduction in funding going into schools, once inflation and rising pupil numbers are taken into account.
There are close to one million staff working in schools. There are also many millions of voters who are parents or grandparents and care deeply about the education of their children and grandchildren. That is something that Tony Blair understood very clearly when he promised a focus on "education, education, education".
There is surely no better place than school spending to demonstrate a clear difference from the Conservatives, and a Labour commitment to invest in the future of our young people and, through them, in the future of our economy. Labour, it is time to step up.
The above graph is based on the following figures. The overall predicted increases
in pupil numbers are 1.1%, 1.3%, 1.7%, 1.6%, 1.7%, 1.4%. The figures below are adjusted for the differential funding of primary and secondary places:
| ||Increased pupil numbers||Inflation||To keep pace (£ Billion)||Conservative||Labour|