It’s a matter of great disappointment to me that schools minister Nick Gibb isn’t standing for the role of Conservative Party leader, and hence prime minister. I would have loved to have seen his contribution to the sudden monetary give-away that appears to be on the horizon. Would he be offering to throw more cash at us?
After years of telling us that there’s more money than ever going into schools, that we all need to do more to "cut our cloth" and that there are savings to be made – as though schools were some profligate section of the public sector frittering money away on subsidised alcohol for members or the proverbial duck houses – suddenly we have a raft of prospective prime ministers offering to throw cash at schools.
Unfortunately, because Mr Gibb hasn’t thrown his hat into the ring, we’ll never get to hear his take on all these offers of money for education. You can rest assured, though, that if he stays in place at the department after the changeover, he’ll be more than ready to trumpet the increases in funding that the government has sought fit to provide. And we, presumably, should be grateful that they’ve considered us.
What worries me is the form this money might take.
Matt Hancock says that he wants to offer an additional £3 billion to schools – but then tempers this message with an outdated statement about preparing pupils for the jobs of tomorrow. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this could end up being a boost for apprenticeships paid for by increasing the apprenticeship levy that is already costing schools, not supporting them.
Extra funding for schools?
Boris Johnson’s offer to bring funding of all schools up to the level of the highest funded sounds good, but then he throws in a caveat about the special extra costs of London, and a figure of £5,000 per secondary pupil is banded around. Given that he himself notes that funding in some parts of London can reach £6,800, it seems that funding everyone to that level is not on the cards – and presumably primary schools can continue to expect even less?
And then there’s Michael Gove’s promise. Setting aside his other misdemeanours, it does seem rather amusing that he wants to see pupil funding rise to… exactly what it was when he left the Department for Education. Perhaps Mr Gove remembers things slightly differently from the rest of us, but I don’t recall 2015 being the heyday of education funding.
But whether it be £1 billion or £3 billion, the real question is exactly where that money will go – and how we will be made to account for it. It seems positively naive now to presume that headteachers will be left to decide for themselves how best to use additional funding in their schools.
No doubt we’ll see some of it syphoned off to side projects that suit the whim of whoever ends up as secretary of state. Perhaps we’ll see more of it devoted to the hubs which seem so popular. Or perhaps it really will reach schools, but come with its own burdens: will I have yet another report to add to the website to prove that I’ve spent my funds frugally and that they’ve had some sort of impact?
Or maybe, just maybe, whoever ends up as our prime minster will enter Downing Street with an admission that they should have listened sooner; that schools have been under-funded for too long, and that budgets should reflect the real costs of educating our children to the highest standards and fair funding provided for everyone.
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979