'School Gains?' - Downing Street launches rival to union funding cuts website

Downing Street will launch a new website to challenge the union’s School Cuts service, as a new law to force councils to pass on minimum funding levels to schools is brought before Parliament.

The prime minister’s office said parents will be able to find out how much extra funding their local school is due to attract under planned increases for the next financial year using an “new, easy-to-use website”.

The creation of the website seems to be an attempt by the government to reclaim the narrative on school funding from the education unions, whose School Cuts website is credited with helping to change hundreds of thousands of people’s votes at the 2017 election.

But the National Education Union said the government’s rhetoric on school funding “does not match the reality”, and warned that most schools will still be worse-off next year than they were in 2015.

The launch is going ahead tomorrow to coincide with the introduction of legislation that will force local authorities to ensure all primary and secondary schools receive at least £3,750 and £5,000 per pupil respectively from April. The minimum level for primary schools will rise to £4,000 from 2021-22.

Under proposals first set out in September, councils will continue to set their own local funding formulae in 2020-21, but the government will make the use of its new minimum per-pupil funding levels by town halls compulsory.

By forcing councils to use the minimum levels, the government is seeking to avoid the sort of criticism frequently levelled at ministers about the current system, which doesn’t require the minimum amounts to be passed on to schools.

The move is considered the first step towards the creation of a hard funding formula.

The prime minister was mocked last year when, during his leadership campaign, Schools Week revealed his plans for higher minimum funding rates for schools amounted to a paltry 0.1% increase in overall funding.

However, Johnson has since announced that schools will receive an additional £2.6 billion in funding in 2020-21. The schools budget will rise by a further £2.2 billion in 2021-22 and another £2.3 billion in 2022-23, an increase in total school spending of £7.1 billion over three years.

“We’re guaranteeing the minimum level of funding for every pupil in every school so that, with a top class education, our children can go on to become the world’s future innovators, trailblazers and pioneers,” said Boris Johnson.

“As we start a new chapter in our history, our younger generations will be front and centre of all that we do.”

The creation of a challenger website by the government follows a long-running battle between ministers and the unions over School Cuts.

Last January, School Cuts was rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for giving a “misleading impression” of cuts faced by schools because of a lack of context.

The ruling prompted James Cleverly, then the Conservative deputy chair, to write to the NEU requesting that they take the site down.

The unions refused to torpedo the website, but did make changes to better explain the methodology.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The government’s rhetoric is excellent, it is a pity the reality for the vast majority of schools does not match it.

“From the start of the next financial year in April, 83 per cent of schools will have lower real terms per pupil funding  than they did in 2015. In addition, a third of schools will have even less per pupil next year than this in real terms.”