Conservative funding pledge is sleight of hand

18 May 2017

Commenting on the Conservative Party’s manifesto, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: 

Funding

“We welcome any improvement to school funding, but unfortunately the Conservative pledge of a £4 billion boost includes a large element of sleight of hand. The schools budget would have to increase by about £2.8 billion in any case because the pupil population will rise by 490,000 by 2022. So, the ‘extra’ money is in fact just over £1 billion, which is not enough to counteract the rising costs which are hitting schools and will amount to £3 billion a year by 2020. We calculate that the schools budget would need to increase by a total of between £6 billion and £7 billion to counter the impact of rising costs and implement the planned National Funding Formula in a way which is truly equitable.

“We support the proposed investment in technical education, but we are very disappointed that there is no recognition of the urgent need for improved funding in post-16 education in general. The current level of funding is woefully inadequate and is leading to cuts in A levels and other courses.

“It is unfortunate that the Conservatives are proposing to fund the ‘extra’ money for schools by removing the existing entitlement to free lunches for all infants, especially as many schools have had to extend kitchens and change catering suppliers to meet this requirement. However, there is no clear evidence to support universal free school meals as a means of improving attainment, and we accept it is not a spending priority.

“We are pleased that the Conservatives have listened to what ASCL and others have said over the importance of providing breakfast to more primary school children, and that they intend to extend this provision, as there is good evidence that breakfast clubs boost attainment. 

Selection

“It is disappointing, but not unexpected, that the Conservatives plan to persist with their misguided policy of extending the number of selective schools in England. 

“The evidence we have seen does not support the premise that the further expansion of selection will improve education for the majority of young people. The evidence indicates that it will have a damaging impact on the life chances of the majority who do not attend a selective school. 

“The expansion of selection is a distraction to the profession’s efforts to ensure that the education system works for everyone. 

“The best way to deliver a good school place for every child is to ensure existing schools and colleges have sufficient funding and access to a ready supply of high-quality teachers and leaders.

English Baccalaureate

“We have pressed the government repeatedly over the need to reduce the target for the take up of the English Baccalaureate from 90%. While we welcome any concessions on this policy, we are extremely disappointed to see that the lower target announced in today’s manifesto of 75% will be only an interim measure, before moving to a 90% take up. 

“This is simply not a realistic target, not least because there are insufficient numbers of specialist teachers in the system, particularly in languages.

Teacher supply

“We are pleased to see that the Conservatives are promising ‘forgiveness’ on student loan repayments to help attract people into teaching. This is a suggestion made by ASCL. Our proposal is that the government should commit to pay off the annual repayment of tuition fee and maintenance loans owed by teachers for as long as they remain in the state school system. The loan could be written off entirely after a certain period, for instance ten years. We believe that this approach would help to address the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis, although other actions will also be needed. 

“We welcome also the commitment to relieve workload pressures by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, and to introduce a single jobs portal for schools to advertise vacancies, which would significantly reduce costs.”