Analysis: Why no government would renege on £7bn pledge

With Parliament in turmoil, how certain is it that the £7.1bn promised for schools by the current government will actually materialise?

money

With an election looming and a potential new government round the corner, are cash-strapped schools really going to receive the extra £7.1 billion promised last week?

When I interviewed education secretary Gavin Williamson shortly after the cash had been announced, he said he was "giving a certainty” to headteachers.

He said: “I’m wanting headteachers to have a real sense of the money they’re going to be getting and to have the confidence to be able to plan ahead.”


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So it would seem that, despite not receiving the money for another year, cash-strapped heads can now loosen the belt a bit and keep on the teachers and teaching assistants who they were planning to "let go".

And despite being desperately hard up after year-upon-year of real-terms cuts, can heads now feel confident in passing on this year's 2.75 cost-of-living pay rise (or at least their 2 per cent share of it)?

Can they afford to keep their schools open on Friday afternoons?

But what if, in the near future, post-election, the new government is a Labour-Lib Dem coalition which doesn't respect a Conservative pledge, and wants to take another look? Or what if there's a Conservative/Brexit-Party hybrid with Nigel Farage as deputy PM and a completely new manifesto?

What if, by then, Brexit has plunged the economy into deep recession and any new government may have other fiscal priorities: like the supply of food for school dinners, for example.

Last week’s funding announcement has certainly been treated with caution in some quarters. NAHT headteachers’ union general secretary Paul Whiteman said: "After five years of disappointment on funding, I’m sure the prime minister would forgive us only giving this a cautious welcome" and “I hope it’s as good as it looks”.

Headteacher Jules White, organiser of the WorthLess? campaign over school funding said the march of 5,000 headteachers planned in Westminster later this month had now been "postponed", but said “we are by no means ending our campaign” and called for a meeting with Williamson to seek assurances.

Back in my meeting with the education secretary at his DfE office, with its rooftop view of the Houses of Parliament, I suggested his time in post could be the shortest-ever for an education secretary.

“I have every intention of being the longest,” he replied.

But in reality, like the rest of us, he has no idea.

Still, it would truly be difficult for any new government to renege on this pledge, wouldn't it?

What with the teacher recruitment and retention crisis meaning 40 per cent of teachers expecting to have left the profession by 2024 (according to the NEU), not to mention rising workload, the rise in teacher mental health issues, and the growing concerns over SEND funding – to name just a few issues.

In the words of Geoff Barton, general secretary of Association of School and College Leaders, the funding announcement is “a line in the sand”.

He said: “It’s setting the bar in very clear terms as to as to what any future government ought to be spending on education.”

 

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