School funding and the next election
23 Sept 2014
Scotland stays in the UK and the parties are arguing about the constitution as a battlefield for the looming general election; Labour is in conference and no-one is talking much about education. The Lib Dems seem to be unable to get away from "breaking their promise" on tuition fees, but claim pupil premium funding as their big education success.
Gove tried to protect school funding, though he did get into hot water by spending funds that were meant to support extra school places on free schools in places where they weren't needed.
All of which makes us think: in whose hands is education funding safe? Because whatever policies we adopt, schools need money - lots of it. They are heavy on staff, who are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively expensive. Academies have also taken on additional burdens, such as pension liabilities of non-teaching staff. (Teacher pensions have survived interference from successive governments: do we trust them to leave them as they are, funded by the state?)
Anyway, which parties have traditionally funded education better in real terms? Obviously it depends on the state of the economy at the time of the government, but which party spends a bigger proportion of its earnings on schools? A quick look back in history reveals, courtesy of the Institute for Fiscal studies:
Red = Labour, blue = Conservative; dotted blue = coalition (provisional figures)
So, while the Blair and Brown Labour governments certainly showed the most dramatic increase in funding during their lifetimes, the pattern over recent history is less clear. Wilson and Callaghan for example, took very different approaches, as the sharp red peak shows.
As for Pupil Premium, this doesn't actually represent any additional funding, just a redistribution, and schools seem to be very largely spending it on things that they were funding anyway, like (mainly) additional staffing.
What most schools cry out for, regardless of amount, is fairer funding. Most of the governments (including the current one) in recent years have looked at this and made promises to varying degrees, yet still there is no fair funding formula. Schools within the same small town can receive incredibly varying funding in the same year.
So who gets the school vote at the next election? The party promises which the biggest funding, or the one that offers the fairest funding? It would at least be nice to know what any of them are offering at some point.
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