The government has announced a £14bn cash injection over three years for England’s schools, setting out a key aspect of the chancellor’s plans before next Wednesday’s spending review.
The funding boost is in line with the new education strategy leaked to the Guardian this week, with £2.6bn for schools in 2020/21, compared with £2.8bn in the draft document. The additional funding will increase to £4.8bn in 2021-22 and £7.1bn in 2022-23.
The chancellor, Sajid Javid, will also place the focus in next Wednesday’s spending review on starting to reverse the longtime underfunding of further education colleges.
Javid, who himself attended an FE college, will announce a £400m injection into 16-19 education next year, which he said was the biggest increase for a decade.
Writing in the Guardian, Javid said: “I want this investment to start to end the snobbishness in some quarters about the quality and importance of a vocational education. It was a FE college that equipped me with the qualifications needed to pursue my ambitions.”
While Javid has insisted there will be no blank cheque for any government department, schools funding is widely regarded as a pressing priority and a chance for Boris Johnson to show that his government will drop the austerity policies of its predecessors.
Johnson said: “When I became prime minister at the start of the summer, I promised to make sure every child receives a superb education regardless of which school they attend or where they grew up. Today I can announce the first step in delivering on that pledge: funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools will increase and be levelled up across the entire country.”
Jules White, a headteacher who launched the Worth Less? campaign by school leaders for higher funding, said schools in England would need to see how much they would receive in real terms before passing judgment.
“It is clear that the major funding crisis that has blighted schools and post-16 provision is now being taken seriously by the government,” White said. “But while the government’s headline figure is for £14bn, the actual increase in total spending on schools may be half of this, at £7.1bn. We also need to know how our real-terms spending power will be affected by rising student numbers and other inflationary costs.”
The government said per-pupil funding would rise at least in line with inflation. Labour said the increase would not be sufficient to reverse long-term spending cuts.
The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “This comes nowhere close to meeting the prime minister’s pledge to reverse the Tories’ education cuts, let alone matching Labour’s plans to invest in a national education service. Instead it is yet another con trick by a politician who has shown time and again that you just can’t trust his promises.”
Johnson has made schools funding one of his key domestic priorities. A nationwide backlash against school funding cuts became one of the key difficulties for many Conservatives in the 2017 general election, with many MPs reporting back to Downing Street that they had not anticipated the level of anger they encountered.
Theresa May hoped to announce a new education funding settlement in the final days of her administration, but the plan was vetoed by her chancellor, Philip Hammond, who was cautious about opening the spending taps while a no-deal Brexit remained a possibility.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This schools funding announcement should really come with a note of apology; the government has for so long derided our campaign and said there was no problem with education funding. Nevertheless, the funding announced today is very positive.”
A number of headteachers that the Guardian spoke to were wary of the government’s figures, citing previous occasions when funding announcements had been less generous than first presented, and some said the extra cash would not be enough even if delivered as advertised.
Some heads suggested that few schools – mainly those concentrated in the most poorly funded regions – would benefit from the minimum funding pledge of £5,000 per secondary pupil and £4,000 per primary pupil. One senior head estimated that only one out of 10 schools would see a significant benefit.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that school spending in England has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. Luke Sibieta, research fellow at IFS, said: “This package represents a large increase in spending per pupil, taking it back [by 2022-23] to about the same level it was in 2009-10. However, 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.”
The new education strategy including the funding settlement was leaked to the Guardian in full this week, including plans for a crackdown on pupil behaviour. It was greeted with a mixture of scepticism and indignation by the education sector.
The leaked paper put a focus on tackling poor behaviour in schools, a measure apparently informed by recent polling that suggested strong public support for tougher disciplinary measures. The paper included explicit support for headteachers who used “reasonable force” in their efforts to improve discipline.
Johnson said: “My government will ensure all young people get the best possible start in life. That means the right funding, but also giving schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so pupils continue to learn effectively.”
The document suggested that the Treasury had “firmly” rejected a radical attempt to improve recruitment by making teacher training courses free for students – an idea understood to have been popular with the previous education secretary, Damian Hinds.