Conservative education policies: the facts that expose them, and the questions to ask

Henry Stewart's picture

The Conservative manifesto, which is being quoted by Tory candidates, is very carefully worded and extremely misleading. It gives the impression of supporting schools while doing the opposite.

This post is for journalists and campaigners. It’s a guide to the facts behind the Tory claims and I’ve even helpfully suggested questions you might ask of Conservative candidates.

Conservative 2017 manifesto: “We will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, representing more than a real terms increase for every year of parliament.”

1)      This gives the impression of being an annual increase but is actually the total increase over the next five years. They have talked of £1 billion a year butif you  divide £4 billion by five and the correct figure is surely £800 million.

2)      It is not an increase in funding from current figures but from the current projection, which is based on cuts. The National Audit Office stated in December 2016 that there would be a shortfall of £3 billion by 2019-20. If the Conservatives have increased funding by £800 million, this still represents a cut in real terms per-pupil funding of £2.2 billion.

Note: The NAO report is available here. The 2nd page of the summary (p4 in the full report) is an excellent fact sheet, worth printing and showing to candidates.

3)      The NAO report states that the DfE plan is for this shortfall is to be met by a £1.3 billion reduction in “procurement costs” and a £1.7 billion reduction in “workforce spending”. The latter clearly means staffing cuts. If we assume average salary costs of £30,000 (a balance between teachers and support staff), then this would mean English schools losing 57,000 staff.

4)      Although the manifesto states that this is an increase to “the overall schools budget”, the Conservatives have made clear that £650 million is being diverted from free infants school meals (which most would see as coming out of the schools budget).

5)      This £650 million saving is based on the fact that the free breakfasts that are proposed instead of lunches will only cost £60 million. Education datalab have suggested this figure could actually be as high as £400 million and the Conservatives have now accepted that it could cost far more than the £60 million.

6)      The Institute for Fiscal Studies last week did the sums on the Conservative and Labour proposals. They found that, even after the £4 billion increase, schools would face real terms per pupil cuts of a further 3% by 2022, or a total cut of just under 7% since 2015.

(A cut of 7% represents £2.7 billion, which is in line with the NAO figure – given it is for two years later.)

Labour in contrast would increase budgets by 6%, resulting in a 1.6% real terms per pupil increase compared to 2015.

How much will your local school funding be cut? Simply enter the school name here and find out.

Question: Will a Conservative government maintain real terms per pupil funding over the next parliament?

(Note: Real terms means after taking account of inflation)

The response I got from our local Conservative candidate, after I quoted the NAO report, was “I cannot dispute your figures”.

Question: The Department for Education has stated that it expects a £1.7 billion reduction in “workforce spending”. Can you confirm, therefore, that schools are expected to have to reduce teachers and support staff by over 50,000 over the next Parliament if a Conservative government is elected?

Question: This local school (choose one) will lose £x million under Conservative proposals. (Get figures from the link above for a specific school). Why should parents vote for a £x million cut for this school?


Conservative 2017 manifesto: “While we will make funding fairer over the course of the parliament, we will make sure no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.”

1)      It states that no school will have its budget cut “as a result of the new formula”. We already know that schools, separate from the formula, are facing an average real terms per pupil cut of 6.9%.

2)      The promise is that no school will have its budget cut in cash terms. If inflation is running at 2.7% (ignoring the fact that costs for schools often rise more than inflation), then this means schools could see a real terms cut of 2.7% a year as a result of the new formula (as well as the more general cuts).

Note: For a secondary school with a £10 million budget, a reduction of 2.7% a year represents £270,000. If the introduction is spread over 5 years, this would be a total real terms reduction of £1.35 million – in addition to any reduction in overall funding..

Question: Your manifesto states that “no school will have its budget cut as a result of the new formula. As this is in cash terms, can you confirm that, if inflation is 2.7%, then schools may face a 2.7% real terms reduction each year?


Schools are well funded and so can cope with cuts

This isn’t in the manifesto but was the defence put out by Toby Young last week, to explain why a 7% reduction was not a problem. It is true that the Labour government increased funding for schools (compare the Labour and Conservative records here).

This was a response to the cuts in education funding from 1979-1997. Unhappiness with the state of our schools was so great that education was one of the two top issues for voters in the 1997 election (along with the NHS, see here) and why Blair focused on “education, education, education”. Do we want a return to that?

Question: School funding doubled under the Labour government between 2000 and 2010, and is set to fall by over £2 billion a year under a Conservative administration. Would you agree that, in general, Labour governments increase funding for schools and Conservative governments reduce it?


A couple of extra questions on the last Conservative manifesto

While parts of the 2015 manifesto have been implemented (they promised a real terms per-pupil cut in funding, and delivered it), it may be worth asking about these elements:

1)      The 2015 Conservative manifesto included the promise that schools would not be run for profit. The 2017 manifesto does not include that guarantee.

Question: Why is this promise not in the 2017 manifesto? Can you guarantee that new free schools, under a Conservative government, would not be run for profit.

2)      The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised that they would “reduce the burden of Ofsted on schools”.

Question: Has any progress been made in reducing the burden of Ofsted on schools? Would schools feel there has been a change?

Its all about Funding

And that’s without going into grammar schools, the continued refusal to let local authorities create schools to meet the demand, the amounts wasted on free schools and other topics.

The key issue for schools is funding. Coming back to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, compared to school funding in 2015:

  • The Conservatives would reduce schools funding by 6.9%, compared to 2015 levels.
  • Labour would increase school funding by 1.6%, compared to 2015 levels.

Question: If you are a parent, a student, work in a school or are any way interested in education, why should you vote for a reduction in school funding of over £2 billion.


Note: According to the National Audit Office, total schools budget in 2015/16 stood at £39.6 billion, made up of the Dedicated Schools Grant and pupil premium.

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Jane Eades's picture
Sat, 27/05/2017 - 23:43

It can be argued that, in the pursuit of its political agenda of opening ‘free’ schools and making all other schools into academies, the Government is guilty of wasting millions on:

  • schools which open and then close shortly afterwards (approximately £70 million);
  • supporting ‘free’ schools which are undersubscribed;
  • academies which are overspent;
  • academy trusts which have inadequate financial controls in place;
  • the legal costs every time an academy changes hands;
  • audit fees for academy trusts (approximately £38 million in 2015-16).

There are 40 academy trusts subject to open financial notices to improve issued by the Education Funding Agency, covering over 150 schools around the country. The question has to be how closely the DfE is able to monitor the 1300+ trusts involved in running schools.  This compares with 152 local education authorities. 

There has been a problem with a shortage of teachers.  This has a financial consequence and this is reflected in the amount being spent on recruitment and supply teachers.

“The amount that schools spend on recruitment agency fees alone has increased by almost a fifth (18.5 per cent) in the past four years, from £469 million in 2012/13 to £556 million in 2015/16.

These figures exclude the spend for academies, which means the overall cost for academies and free schools – which now represent the majority of schools – will be substantially higher.”


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 29/05/2017 - 11:02

If Toby Young thinks reduced funding for schools isn't a problem, then why does the website of the free school he set up, the West London Free School, say it has received grants from the West London Free School Foundation Trust for 'additional textbooks' and 'maintenance of facilities'?  Surely school funding should cover purchasing text books and maintaining school facilities.  Schools shouldn't have to ask charitable trusts for grants to pay for these essentials.   If they do, then surely this is a sign that funding is already inadequate?

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