Labour this week promised to protect the overall education budget if elected this May.
But any decision on whether to ring-fence separately funding for early years, schools and 16 to 19-year-olds won’t be made before the election, says shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt.
Leader Ed Miliband announced on Thursday his party’s plan to protect the overall education budget in line with inflation if his party forms a government after May 7.
But in an exclusive interview with Schools Week following Mr Miliband’s speech, Mr Hunt (pictured) said decisions about how funding would be allocated within that budget would be made after his party formed a government.
“Let’s focus on today’s announcement: the ring-fencing of the education budget which is really significant.
“All we have had from the Tories is a cash settlement just for the schools budget. They want to cut spending year-on-year-on-year – even after the deficit has been cleared. There is a difference in values in what we want to do and what they want to do.
“How we’re carving up the cake in terms of inter-departmental budgets . . . we will put forward those spending proposals when we’re in government.”
Labour’s announcement follows concerns that a similar Liberal Democrat policy of protecting funding “from cradle to college” might involve post-16 funding being sacrificed for early years, or vice-versa.
It also comes after a recent Tory pledge to protect funding for 5 to 16-year-olds sparked concerns about a real-terms cut, as it did not factor in inflation.
In his speech, Mr Miliband said the next Labour government would ensure that spending in schools rose “by as at least as much as inflation.
“In other words, it will be protected in real terms . . . and we will go further.
“Because all of us know that the success of our children depends so much on the first steps children take in the early years, and the further education they go on to.
“David Cameron, when he gave his speech, had nothing to say about any of these areas. I can only assume he is planning big cuts in spending. This will short-change our children’s futures.
“If we are to act on the principle that education is the passport to success in life for individuals and to our nation’s economy, we must be willing to invest in the early years, in schools and in further education.
“The next Labour government will protect the overall education budget; rising budgets, protected in real terms every year.”
Mr Miliband’s pledge has been welcomed by various organisations, including the NASUWT and the National Union of Students (NUS).
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Any government that is committed to high quality public education must recognise that investment in education has to be the key priority. On this issue alone there is a stark choice for the electorate in May.”
NUS vice-president for further education Joe Vinson said: “Cuts to the budget this year have already threatened the ability for 18-year-olds to access the first second chance as an adult they are ever likely to have to take.
“With the participation age rising to 18, those that need to stay on in education for whatever reason are being told that their second chance isn’t valued unless they pay for it themselves.”
But Tory Schools Minister Nick Gibb claimed Labour would spend less on education because it didn’t take account of an expected rise in pupil numbers.
“We can only have strong, well-funded schools by staying on the road to a stronger economy. Ed Miliband doesn’t have an economic plan, so the security of our schools’ future would be at risk under Labour.”
Analysis by former special adviser to Michael Gove Sam Freedman claims Labour’s pledge could actually result in a cut in school funding of almost 10 per cent.
Writing on his blog, Sam Freedman said: “Labour haven’t pledged to increase budgets per pupil. So while the current budget for schools (5 to 16) will increase in line with inflation it won’t be increased to take account of the very substantial increase in pupil numbers over the next Parliament. I estimate this will mean a cut to schools budgets of 9.5 per cent compared to the Conservatives 10.5 per cent.
“The DfE predicts there will be 655k more pupils in 2020 than in 2015. As these children have mostly been born already this is a fairly safe prediction. Average per pupil costs are £4.5k a year. 655k x £4.5k = £2.95 billion. The current schools budget is £41.6 billion so those additional pupils represent an effective seven per cent cut.”
Miliband’s six education promises
1. Curriculum – there are many prongs to this promise of a broad curriculum. One is to “turn around” careers advice and making work experience compulsory for 14-16 year olds, value creative subjects, as well as introduce a new “gold standard Technical Baccalaureate” for 14-year-olds
2. Higher standards – claiming the coalition government’s expansion of the academy programme and its free school scheme had been a mistake, Labour said all headteachers will have the same power as academy and free school headteachers and will introduce Directors of School Standards to have “proper” accountability in all schools
3. Qualified teachers – The party will “demand” all teachers work towards qualified teacher status, as well as creating the status of “Master Teacher”. Miliband also pledged to support the proposed College of Teaching as he believes it will raise standards in the profession
4. Class sizes – Using money from the Free Schools budget, Labour wants to cap infant class sizes to 30 pupils by creating more places “where they are needed”
5. Citizens – Age-appropriate sex and relationship education would be compulsory in all schools, citizenship education will be redesigned, children will have to take part in two-hours of sport every week, and the party would allow 16-year-olds to vote
6. Protected budget – school spending will “be protected in real terms” and rise by at least as much as inflation, Labour pledged, in early years, schools and further education