Labour pledges 2017
‘Conservative cuts are starving schools of the funding they need to deliver a first class education. Crippling underfunding is driving up class sizes and forcing schools to cut corners…. We will make sure schools are properly resourced by reversing the Conservatives’ cuts and ensuring that all schools have the resources they need. We will introduce a fairer funding formula that leaves no school worse off, while redressing the historical underfunding of certain schools. Labour will also invest in new school buildings, including the phased removal of asbestos from existing schools’.
(The Labour Manifesto, 2017, p13)
Evidence/ data check
- Under the Conservatives per pupil spending has been frozen since 2015-2016. This amounts to them making real-terms cuts in school spending per pupil, the first in England since the mid-1990s. Britton et al (2017) estimate these cuts will total about 8 per cent over 2015–16 to 2019–20 if continued. If delivered this would leave spending per pupil in 2019–20 at about the same level it was at a decade earlier, but still far higher than it was before the 2000s.
- The introduction of the national funding formula (NFF) as previously outlined by the Department for Education (2016) would lead to winners and losses. Small primary schools, for example, would see a total gain of £22.7 million as a direct result of the formula changes, while disadvantaged primary and secondary schools in London would lose around £16.1 million by 2019-20 (Perera et al, 2017).
- While the Conservatives have since committed to ensuring no school loses out as a result of the NFF over the next parliament, real-terms per pupil losses of around 3 per cent on average are still anticipated (Vaughn, 2017).
- Britton et al (2017) estimate Labour's pledge to reverse all the Conservatives’ cuts since 2015 and maintain spending per pupil in real-terms would mean at least £4.8 billion will be needed by the end of parliament. Ensuring no school loses out from a NFF in real-terms could cost £325 million up to 2019–20.
- Labour have previously said reversing the Conservative Party’s cuts to corporation tax would, in part, pay for these commitments (Barej, 2017). Miller (2017) estimates this would generate £19 billion in the near term – so enough to cover the proposed reversal of Conservative cuts, prevent any fails in real-terms per pupil funding and to ensure no school loses out from the NFF - but the tax would raise substantially less in the medium to long run, because companies would respond by investing less in the UK (no estimate is given).
‘..we will introduce free school meals for all primary school children, paid for by removing the VAT exemption on private school fees’.
(The Labour Manifesto, 2017, p38)
Evidence/ data check
- All state school educated pupils in the first three years of primary school already receive free meals, under a scheme introduced by the coalition government. Labour have previously said that the House of Commons Library figures suggest extending free meals to all primary pupils would cost £700 million to £900 million (Coughlan, 2017).
- Dearden et al (2017) figures suggest £800 million a year, assuming a 90 per cent take up of the offer and a cost of £2.30 per meal. IFS also note there would be other upfront costs from one-time investments such as renovating school kitchens and cafeterias to provide additional meals. They estimate this could be as much as £225 million. Also, because Labour is proposing additional spending on this policy (paid for by levying VAT on private school fees), the block grants to the three devolved nations will increase under the Barnett formula. This increase is estimated to amount to £150 million being paid to the three devolved nations each year, with an additional £45 million paid as a result of the upfront costs. This brings the total cost of extending free school meals to all primary children to around £950 million each year, with an additional upfront cost of as much as £270 million.
- Labour have previously quoted an estimate from the Fabian Society that VAT on private school fees could raise about £1.5 billion per year. This research was done in 2010 (School Improvement, 2017).
- Therefore estimates of money gained are more than estimates of costs, but total cost may be greater than that quoted by Labour, as upfront costs don’t appear to be included in their cost estimate.
- Additionally the General Secretary of the Independent Schools Council said the funding proposals would hurt hard-working families and don’t add up, highlighting that the extra cost may cause smaller independent schools to close, reducing the amount gained from removing VAT and driving more children back to the state system, so increasing state school costs (Milmo, 2017).
- Labour said there was research evidence from the IFS and National Centre for Social Research showing that universal access to free school meals would raise achievement – IFS note this was a small pilot study that showed a slight improvement on pupils' attainment, but they do not know if this impact would be replicated nationwide and that there was no change on absences or children's weight (Coughlan, 2017).
- Overall an expensive policy with little evidence to back it up.
Barej, A. (2017). Labour and Lib Dems announce general election school cash pledges. Public Finance. Available at http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/05/labour-and-lib-dems-announce-general-election-school-cash-pledges [23 May 2017]
Britton, J. and Sibieta, L. (2017). Labour’s Proposed Boost to Education Spending. Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/9208 [23 May 2017]
Coughlan, S. (2017). Corbyn promises free primary school meals for all. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39504339 [23 May 2017]
Dearden, L. and Farquharson, C. (2017). Free school meals for all primary pupils: Projections from a pilot. Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/9202 [23 May 2017]
Department for Education. (2016). Schools national funding formula Government consultation - stage 2. Available at https://consult.education.gov.uk/funding-policy-unit/schools-national-funding-formula2/ [23 May 2017]
Labour Manifesto. (2017). Available at http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/manifesto2017 [23 May 2017]
Miller, H. (2017). Labour’s reversal of corporate tax cuts would raise substantial sums but comes with important trade-offs. Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/9206 [23 May 2017]
Milmo, C. (2017). Labour’s VAT plan for private school fees would lead to costly exodus into state sector, independent heads claim. i news. Available at https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/uk/labours-vat-plan-private-school-fees-lead-costly-exodus-state-sector-independent-heads-claim/ [23 May 2017]
Perera, N., Andrews, J and Sellen, P. (2017). The implications of the National Funding Formla for Schools. Education Policy Institute. Available at https://epi.org.uk/report/national-funding-formula/ [23 May 2017]
School Improvement. (2017). Labour plans to impose VAT on private school fees to fund free school meals. Available at https://schoolsimprovement.net/labour-plans-impose-vat-private-school-fees-fund-free-school-meals/ [23 May 2017]
Vaughan, F. (2017). Tory £4bn spending pledge ‘will mean 3% cut to school budgets’. i News. Available at https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/education/tory-4bn-spending-pledge-will-mean-3-cut-school-budgets/ [23 May 2017]