Election 2024

Tory funding pledge could be ‘biggest cut in 50 years’, says IfS

Think tank says Sunak’s per-pupil funding ‘protection’ actually works out as a 6% reduction and would lead to job losses and school closures

Think tank says Sunak’s per-pupil funding ‘protection’ actually works out as a 6% reduction and would lead to job losses and school closures

The Conservatives’ pledge to protect per-pupil funding in real terms could lead to the biggest school budget reduction for fifty years, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned.

A promise to protect “day-to-day schools spending in real terms per pupil” over the course of the next Parliament is one of a handful of new pledges made in Rishi Sunak’s manifesto, published today.

But in a scathing assessment, the IfS said this would actually work out as a £3.5 billion cut, equating to 6 per cent, to the total schools budget. This is because pupil numbers are due to fall by 400,000 by 2028.

“A reduction in the overall schools budget on this scale has not been delivered since the mid-1970s, and were it to be delivered it would almost certainly require a reduction in the workforce and potentially school closures too,” said IfS research fellow Luke Sibieta.

Doing the minimum implied by the commitment “would mean that per-pupil spending in 2029 was at the same real-terms level as it was in 2010 – nearly two decades with no growth in school resources per pupil”.

Delivering such cuts to total spending would also be “challenging from a practical perspective”, the IfS warned.

Larger rises to per-pupil funding not ruled out

The Conservatives could decide to raise per-pupil funding should they win the election, as their commitment is only to protect it.

The party has also not included any savings relating to the pledge in its costings document.

When asked if the promise would amount to a funding cut, the party would not provide an official comment on the matter.

A Tory source said: “As you can see in our costings document, all our policies are fully funded and we have not assumed any savings from the schools budget.”

Politicians of all parties have faced calls to commit to maintaining current school funding cash levels. As pupil numbers fall, this would allow per-pupil funding to rise in cash-terms, rather just with inflation.

At the ASCL conference earlier this year, former general secretary Geoff Barton said parties should use the headroom to boost per-pupil funding and money for disadvantaged children.

He accepted “money is tight”.

“But there is something that politicians from all sides can and should commit to over the course of the next parliament which is affordable, and which would make a huge difference.

“Population estimates predict that the number of pupils in England’s schools will fall by half a million over the next five years. It adds up to a huge – multi-billion-pound – saving.

“So, instead of raking this money back into the Treasury – there is a golden opportunity to put education on a more sustainable footing.”

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