Labour is locked in last-minute negotiations as the shadow education team seeks to ensure that the party's forthcoming manifesto offers more extra money to schools than the Conservatives, Tes can reveal.
And the pressure on the official opposition is being ramped up with rumours circulating that the Liberal Democrats are about to pledge another £5 billion on top of the Conservatives’ £7.1 billon extra for schools.
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Labour's education team also hopes to be able to beat the Tories' pledge, which it says amounts to “cuts” and would still leave 83 per cent of schools worse off than in 2015.
But a source said they had only received "soft assurances" that the money would be there. "The issue is how we are going to get enough cash from the [shadow] treasury," they said.
The need for more funding for Sure Start could stand as a potential obstacle.
The Conservatives are way ahead in the August publication of their own schools figure – of "£14 billion" extra by 2022-23. The Tories believe the figure – which is expected to appear in their own manifesto – is big enough to have already taken the issue of funding off the election agenda.
And while experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies say it only amounts to £7.1 billion when the double and triple counting is factored in, and £4.3 billion when inflation is taken into account, they say it’s enough to reverse real-terms cuts since 2010.
“We’ve been told we’re going to beat the Tories on what they have pledged and what we perceive are cuts," a Labour source said. "We’ve not been told any more, but we’re expecting that to be the outcome of the Clause V meeting.”
The Clause V meeting, set to take place this Saturday, is a key summit meeting at which the shadow cabinet will sit down with Labour’s National Policy Forum and trade unions, among other affiliated bodies, to thrash out the final version of the manifesto, which will contain the figure for schools.
Tes understands that teaching unions have already been putting the pressure on to ensure that the final funding figure for schools is bigger than the Conservative offer.
A source said it could depend on the amount needed to reopen Sure Start centres across England, which could cost an extra £2 billion more than anticipated.
But they added the Labour figure was likely to be “on par or better” than the party's commitment at the election in 2017, when the pledge was to re-fund to previous levels and to reverse real-terms cuts of £2.8 billion since 2015.
The fact that the manifesto is yet to be finalised did not stop the Conservatives from accusing Labour of putting the economy in danger of an economic crisis at the weekend. But Labour dismissed the claim that it planned a £1.2 trillion spending spree as “fake news”.
A Labour source suggested to Tes that a bigger school funding pledge from the Lib Dems could make Labour "look like the fiscally responsible party".
"Do we now look like we will be restrained because Labour has always been seen as the party who spends more than anyone else?" they added. "The [Labour] figure is likely to be less than the Lib Dems' and more than the Tories'."
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said her party would make a full announcement "in due course".