While school funding has increased, so have the costs faced by schools, with schools reporting increasing financial pressures. As such, school funding has been an important issue, resonating not just with schools but parents and the electorate more widely. During the 2017 election campaign, the issue of school funding rose from the 5th most important issue to voters, to the 3rd most important issue.
In September 2019, the government announced that it would be increasing the schools’ budget by an additional £7.1bn per year by 2022-23. If implemented, this would leave school spending per-pupil at around the same level in 2022-23 as it was in 2009-10.
All of the parties have committed to significant additional spending on schools relative to 2019-20, though significant cost pressures have also been identified and there has been little discussion of addressing concerns with the allocation of high needs funding. The schools pupil premium is set to experience further real terms cuts under the plans of all parties, except for the Labour Party.
The Conservative Party have largely maintained the funding increases identified in Spending Round 2019, with some additional money allocated for the arts and physical education. Some schools will only see inflation level increases in the short term, this is particularly the case for schools with high levels of disadvantage. Schools will also face increasing cost pressures from the rises in teacher salaries which have to be met through core funding. The manifesto does not set out any additional spending for high needs, nor any indication of any reforms to its distribution.
Overall, the Liberal Democrats have allocated slightly more than current government plans, and their increases would reach schools more quickly. This includes additional money for the expansion of universal infant free school meals to all primary aged pupils and secondary aged pupils in families in receipt of universal credit. The cost of providing these meals is likely to have been underestimated given recent increases in the National Minimum and Living Wages. The Liberal Democrats would however provide additional money for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities at a level that would address identified shortfalls, and would also encourage inclusion by ensuring costs to schools are reduced.
The Labour Party would spend more on schools than either of the other main parties and would also increase spending rapidly in the new parliament. They too would expand the provision of free meals to all primary aged pupils, the costs of which are likely to have been underestimated. They would address the shortfall in the total amount of high needs funding, but the manifesto lacks significant commitments to addressing the challenges associated with how the money is distributed.
The Green Party’s spending commitments would appear to be the most ambitious, however there is little detail about the profile of spend over the course of the parliament. Their long term targets to reduce class sizes to under 20 would incur significant additional revenue and capital expenditure which was not explored at all in the manifesto.
The Brexit Party did not address any issues related to school funding.
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