Politics

Liberal Democrats’ schools plans could cost more than £9bn

The party set out its stall at its conference last weekend. But do its sums add up?

The party set out its stall at its conference last weekend. But do its sums add up?

The Liberal Democrats’ new schools policies will likely cost in excess of £9 billion, Schools Week analysis has found, with no plan announced yet for how they will be funded.

It is 50 per cent more than the £6 billion the party earlier this week estimated its plans would cost.

About a third of the spend is likely be on repairing school buildings. The party has pledged to bridge the gap between the government’s current spending and what’s needed. According to the National Audit Office, that’s £3 billion a year.

Some proposals have been costed individually, such as £390 million for tutoring, at least £450 million to extend free school meals to all families on universal credit, £620 million for a mental health professional in every school and £1.2 billion to halve the amount schools pay towards SEND support.

Estimates are fairly straightforward for other plans not costed by the party. For example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said extending free school meals to all primary pupils would cost about £1 billion. 

And the Education Policy Institute has estimated funding a continuing professional development offer for all teachers would cost about £210 million.

Some costs are harder to estimate. But if inflation falls to 2 per cent in 2025, the Lib Dems would only need to increase core school funding by about £1.2 billion to fulfil their pledge to match inflation.

£1bn to reverse cuts to FSM and pupil premium

A big chunk of the proposed spend would be on extending and increasing free school meals and the pupil premium. 

We estimate that would cost almost £1 billion – £260 million to reverse cuts to the pupil premium, £553 million to bring free school meals into line with actual costs and around £122 million to extend the pupil premium to 16 to 18-year-olds.

Mark Lehain, a former government special adviser who is now head of education at the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, said it was “great to see so many ideas coming from the Lib Dems”. 

But he warned it “isn’t enough to just want something to happen – you need to say how it will be paid for and implemented”. 

“Some of these policies look extremely expensive, so we need to know if they’re getting the money by cutting other education spending or raising taxes.

“We also need to know how these things will work. For example, where are all the extra secondary school specialists going to come from? If they have found a secret stash of science teachers, we’d love to know about it now.”

A party spokesperson said the party would be “publishing a fully costed manifesto as we always do when the election comes”. 

“Liberal Democrats have pointed out many of the shameful handouts that this government has made to its friends, such as the £1.1 billion in tax cuts for big banks that Rishi Sunak announced as chancellor in 2021.”

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