No new money, but the Tories have learnt their lesson on schools
One reason for the election embarrassment, some Tories believe, is school funding – or a lack of it. Across the country voters shared horror stories about schools unable to afford the heating bill, textbooks, or even stationery. Some schools took to begging parents for cash and essential items. One school in East Sussex reportedly asked parents to donate sticky tape, glue and lavatory rolls.
Something, clearly, had to be done. The Tories did not want to be going into the next election on the back of a splash in the Daily Mirror about children having to write their own maths textbooks, or PE being taken by the school hamster.
Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, demanded more money from Philip Hammond, the Chancellor. And, when she rose to make a statement in the Commons yesterday, observers naturally assumed that he’d agreed. There would, Miss Greening announced, be an extra £1.3billion for schools. “Hear, hear!” neighed Tory backbenchers. Labour MPS scowled silently.
As Miss Greening’s statement wore on, however, it became clear that the Chancellor hadn’t opened his wallet after all. The money wasn’t new.
Instead, Miss Greening admitted, it would be funded in full from “efficiencies and savings” within the Department for Education.
Efficiencies and savings. A whole £1.3billion worth of them. What could her department possibly find to cut, that would save such an enormous sum? Had they been over-spending wildly on things we didn’t know about? A gold-plated departmental water-cooler? Printers with ink made from unicorns’ blood? A team-building
‘Labour’s Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, gave credit where it was due. To herself’
awayday to the International Space Station?
Not quite. Miss Greening explained that she would cobble together the sum by using money previously allocated for other purposes – such as free schools, and a healthy pupils scheme. Gamely she vowed to “get the most out of the taxpayer’s pound”.
Labour’s Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, gave credit where it was due. To herself. “I’ve spent a year asking the Secretary of State to give our schools the funding they need,” she blared. “So it’s nice to know I’m finally getting through to her!”
Tory MPS stuck up for Miss Greening. “Can I mark her homework today with a resounding tick! VG!” hooted Peter Heaton-jones (Con, North Devon). “I give her 10 out of 10, and a gold star for listening!” squawked Anna Soubry (Con, Broxtowe). Mrs Soubry was not to know that in order to reach Miss Greening’s target of £1.3billion the Department for Education’s gold star budget has been scrapped. Meanwhile, ticks have been rationed to one per pupil per term.
Labour MPS doubted that the extra money would be enough. James Frith (Lab, Bury North) said schools in his area needed new buildings, new staff and smaller classes. Also, pupils needed “enrichment activities”. What “enrichment activities” are, I’m not sure. Perhaps selling home-made lemonade outside the school gates to raise money for some felt-tip pens.