In a departure from the thinking that dominated so much of the Cameron-Osbourne years, Boris Johnson has pledged to loosen purse-strings in a bid to win over the public ahead of a mooted General Election.
£14 billion has, according to the government, been set aside for investment in schools over a three year period. This is in keeping with Mr Johnson’s pledge to bolster school budgets, made during the conservative leadership contest following the departure of Theresa May. The extra funding will allow schools to invest in better facilities and talent, like modern computer systems and education lawyers to deal with employment issues, admissions, exclusions, and prospective academy conversions.
But the £14 billion headline figure is actually slightly more complicated than it might first appear. It’s the result of adding together three separate annual increases: of £2.6bn in the first year, £4.8bn in the second year, and £7.1bn in the third year (the school year ending in 2022). All of these figures, however, are relative to this year: adding them together is at best misleading, and at worse deliberately deceptive.
The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, was quick to pour cold water on the figure, declaring in a tweet that the figure is ‘somewhere between meaningless and misleading’. This is what’s known as a ‘cumulative total’.
Things get even more complicated when we account for inflation, which by 2023 would bring the £7 billion figure all the way down to £4.3 billion in today’s money. With that said, the pledge still goes some way toward reversing the real-term fall in per-pupil spending that’s gone on every year since the coalition government came to power in 2010. Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the IFS, welcomed the increase, with the proviso that “a 13-year period of no net growth in school spending per pupil, after inflation, still represents a significant squeeze on school budgets when considered in historical terms.”
A leaked paper also revealed prospective plans to tackle poor behaviour by granting schools additional powers to deal with problem students. The paper also rejected an idea popular under the previous education secretary, Damian Hinds: that of providing free teacher-training courses to students.
As a consequence of the Barnett formula, this will mean extra money being made available to Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish schools too. Children with special needs will also get a further £700m as part of the deal.
The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, has been quick to emphasise the importance of technical education to the government’s plans. A former student in an FE, he has written in the Guardian to emphasise the power than an FE qualification can have, and called for and to ‘snobbishness’ around vocational education.
The new money will not arrive until next year, provided that the existing government is still in power by then. Given the fluidity in Westminster at present, this assumption would be a brave one!