May ‘wants’ multi-billion-pound boost for schools

Conflicting signals about school funding as PM hopefuls compete to offer most money but Treasury minister warns of spending review delay

Theresa May reportedly wants to boost school funding before she leaves Downing Street.

Theresa May wants to announce a “multi-billion pound programme” for schools and colleges before she leaves Downing Street next month, according to a report.

The Financial Times reports the prime minister is locked in a dispute with chancellor Philip Hammond over money he has built up as a contingency in case there is a no-deal Brexit.

The story comes on the day Ms May formally resigns as leader of the Conservative Party.


Quick read: Corbyn says May in 'outright denial' over school funding

AnalysisHow will Tories spend promised extra cash for schools? 

Background: DfE's problems on school funding


Leading candidates to succeed her have been competing to see who will promise the biggest boost to school funding.

However, Treasury minister Liz Truss this week sparked concerns that the school funding squeeze could continue for another year after she told peers that the government’s spending review was likely to be delayed because of the Tory leadership election.

She suggested the new PM would want to make decisions about big funding commitments themselves, but the FT suggests that Ms May wants to take credit for extra school funding herself.

It quotes a “senior Tory” saying that she was galled to see those hoping to succeed her making promises to spend money that Mr Hammond had not let her spend.

The report says she has urged the chancellor to release cash for a three-year school funding settlement, with extra money for failing schools, teacher training, higher pay for teacher retention, and a review of the way the national schools budget is allocated.

A Downing Street spokesperson told the FT: “You heard the prime minister talk passionately about some of the domestic policy issues which she cares about.

“She will continue to focus on trying to deliver for the people of this country.”

The newspaper said that the fate of Ms May’s hopes to increase school funding lie with the chancellor, who had previously been seen as sceptical about the need for schools to have more money.

According to the FT, the prime minister also wants to focus attention on further education, telling the chancellor she wants to have a system that helps people from all backgrounds.

Last week, Ms May welcomed the report published by Philip Augar, which outlined dozens of recommendations to level the playing field between HE and FE. Speaking at the report’s launch, she said further education colleges “have the potential to transform lives and grow our economy, but the FE landscape can be confusing to navigate”. “Too many students, parents and employers see further education as a second-best option. And successive governments have failed to give it the support it needs.” The Treasury reportedly claimed the Augar report could cost £6bn a year.

Ms May was expected to take her plans to her cabinet for approval.

School funding became one of the biggest issues in the 2017 general election, which saw the Conservatives lose their Commons majority.

Following the election, then-education secretary Justine Greening found an additional £1.3 billion for schools over two years, to maintain real-terms per pupil funding.

However, she had to find the money from within the existing DfE budget, rather than securing additional money from the Treasury.

The same happened when Damian Hinds last year announced a teachers’ pay grant to partially cover the cost of pay rises.

Mr Hinds this year told headteachers he had heard their message for increased school funding “loud and clear”, and there was “a moral argument and a hard-headed” case to make about the importance of school funding.

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