‘U turn or You’ll lose’ – that was the message to Prime Minister Theresa May from Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown on Radio 4’s Today this morning*.
Clifton-Brown agreed with the interviewer’s blunt summary of his strong feelings against the proposed funding formula for schools in England. ‘Exactly!’ he said.
He’s never rebelled in 25 years but the proposals now being consulted upon made him angry. The proposed formula, supposedly designed to eradicate funding inconsistencies, was enshrining current unfairness, he said. He described how every primary and secondary school in Gloucestershire, already underfunded, would lose under the new plan.
Clifton-Brown wasn’t alone. Nine MPs had joined him at a meeting with Theresa May making her aware of their anger. And they were just the ‘tip if the iceberg’, he said. A large number of Tory MPs were furious about how the plans would cause schools in their constituencies to lose out.
If the funding proposals were presented to Parliament in their present form, Clifton-Brown said, the Government would be defeated.
School funding isn’t the only issue that causes ructions among Tory MPs. Proposals to build new grammars and increase selection are opposed by many back bench Tories including former education secretary Nicky Morgan. The Bright Blue think tank, which describes itself as a ‘pressure group for liberal conservatism’ has said ‘The Government is wasting precious political capital on re-introducing grammar schools.’ And the cross-party Education Select Committee, chaired by Tory Neil Carmichael, has described the proposals as an ‘unnecessary distraction’.
Building new grammar schools is currently illegal. The Government would have to ask Parliament’s permission to overturn the ban. It appears May hopes to forestall a Tory rebellion on this issue by delaying a vote until after the 2020 election, Schools Week reports. The plans could be incorporated in the Tory Manifesto and, if the Conservatives won the election with a pro-grammar clause in place, rebellious Tory MPs could be ‘pressured into line’.
Conservative MPs who oppose selection would then have to make a choice: vote for the Government and be a hypocrite or behave honourably according to their conscience and vote against. Tory candidates at the next election may find themselves squirming if asked whether they support a Manifesto pledge to reintroduce selection and, if not, how would they vote. May would be well-advised to drop plans to set up new grammar schools.
UPDATE Future voters from Yerbury School sing 'Schools Just Wanna Have Funds'. Watch here.
*available here for 29 days at 1.17 into the programme