We await the publication of the Conservative Party manifesto for June’s election. Assuming the polls are right, it will give us a fascinating insight into the programme for an all-powerful Tory government for the next five years.
There’s lots of chitter-chatter around what it will say about schools. Certainly, the still relatively new May administration has put schools policy – and specifically selection – at the heart of its agenda beyond Brexit.
If reports in the Sunday newspapers are to be believed, there will be very ambitious targets for the opening of new grammar schools – and the policy will go further than many in education circles had hoped.
Perhaps more surprising are the rumours swirling around Westminster that the manifesto will contain extra funding for schools.
(Certainly the May administration seems to have a marginally more relaxed approach to austerity and fiscal rules than its predecessor had.)
How much extra money might be magicked up is anyone’s guess (and is unlikely to be spelt out in details in the manifesto), but any additional funding would have several political advantages – beyond simply helping out the many schools battling the ravaging cuts right now, who will take anything they can get.
Buying off the backbenchers
Firstly, it could buy off the Tory backbenchers, who are providing some of the most vocal opposition to the plans to reform the national funding formula.
Similarly, it might blunt one of Labour’s most effective attack lines since May announced the election – that the £3 billion cuts are really taking their toll on schools. Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches on this subject a fortnight ago in the early stages of the election gave him some of his only recent positive headlines.
And in the medium term, Tory advisers will no doubt hope that a little extra cash would help sugar the pill of grammar schools among school leaders.
No doubt the details of the manifesto are still very much up in the air – ideas such as this could end up on the cutting-room floor – but watch this space.
One last caveat: if the Conservatives do find some extra funding, it’s hard to imagine it will go beyond political window-dressing and be large enough to make a substantive a difference to schools on the educational frontline.
Ed Dorrell is head of content at Tes magazine. He tweets as @Ed_Dorrell