England’s three main political parties have been quiet about their plans for schools’ capital funding over the course of the next parliament – even though a spike in demand for additional pupil places is widely predicted
Last week the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think-tank noted that all three parties had pledged to protect schools funding in some form, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats proposing to keep inflationary track of overall schools budgets, while the Conservatives would protect per-pupil spending. The parties have not specified the degree to which spending on schools capital would be ring-fenced.
The IFS’s analysis of the overall plans from all three main parties showed them to be ‘much less generous than the small real-terms increase in spending per pupil experienced over the current parliament’.
However, demand for pupil places is predicted to grow by a net 7 per cent by 2020 – effectively a 10 per cent leap in need for secondary school places and a 5 per cent increase in demand for primary places.
Lobby group the Local Government Association claims this will require an extra 880,000 new school places in the years to 2023, roughly averaging 110,000 per year.
To date the Conservatives’ main schools capital pledge is the delivery of an additional 500 free schools by 2020, predicted to create about 270,000 new places in total.
Labour opposes opening free schools in areas that already have surplus spaces, pledging to focus resources on creating ‘more places where they are needed’.
The Liberal Democrats said the free-school plan would divert £4 billion from mainstream school budgets. The Conservatives said the cost of the free schools would depend on each individual profile, but anticipated that the total cost would be ‘not more than £3 billion’.
The party insisted PSBP had been successful and said it was expected to continue into the next parliament, although the exact nature and structure of the programme had ‘not been precisely agreed’.
Mairi Johnson, global education lead at consultant Aecom, said the sector was expecting further reductions in government spending. ‘Quite how that fits with the pressure on pupil places is a difficult question,’ she added.
Ty Goddard, co-founder of the Education Foundation, agreed that dealing with increasing pupil numbers and maintaining existing buildings would be key for the next government. ‘There are still schools in a bad condition,’ he said. ‘I heard the phrase “we’re a two-bucket school” again a couple of weeks ago – for the first time in ages.’