Schools funding: a manifesto breach?

22 March 2017
What was claimed

The Conservative manifesto promised that per-pupil schools funding would be protected, and it’s now being cut.

Our verdict

Spending on English schools overall is increasing but per-pupil funding is set to fall in the next few years, once inflation is factored in. The Conservative manifesto promised to protect funding per pupil, but not necessarily in real terms.

What was claimed

The government has protected the schools budget.

Our verdict

That was correct in the recent past, and in the near future in terms of the overall amount. But per-pupil funding once inflation is taken into account is set to fall over the next few years.

“The manifesto on which [the PM] fought the last election promised that ‘under a future Conservative government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected’... she was clearly elected on a pledge not to cut school funding and that’s exactly what is happening.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 22 March 2017

“We are seeing record levels of funding going into our schools. We have protected the schools budget.”

Theresa May, 22 March 2017

The 2015 Conservative manifesto did promise that “the amount of money following your child into school will be protected”. So how’s that looking?

Mrs May is correct that spending on state schools in England is at record levels, but that in itself isn’t particularly impressive—government budgets are often at record levels in cash terms, just to keep up with inflation. It’s also important to know how many pupils that money has to cover.

If you just look at funding per pupil and ignore inflation, it appears correct that the schools budget in the coming years has been protected. The same is true if you factor in inflation but ignore rising pupil numbers.

But real-terms funding per pupil—that is, taking both factors into account—is set to fall. That’s the conclusion of analysis from the National Audit Office and, more recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The latter projects a 6.5% reduction by 2019/20.

The full extract from the Conservative manifesto reads:

“Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected. As the number of pupils increases, so will the amount of money in our schools. On current pupil number forecasts, there will be a real-terms increase in the schools budget in the next Parliament.”

It’s not entirely clear whether this is a promise to protect spending both in real terms and per pupil.

The government did protect the real-terms schools budget per pupil in the last parliament, and the IFS notes that the projected falls “follow on from very significant growth over the 2000s”.

We’ve been talking here about spending on pupils up to the age of 16, in primary and secondary schools in England only. The funding situation at other levels within England are different, and education is a devolved responsibility in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

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