The Conservatives will promise to protect the schools budget if they retain power at the May general election, but the move will mean bigger cuts for other government departments.
Today, David Cameron will signal his determination to press ahead with more education reforms. He is expected to promise to speed up the academy programme, with more failing schools being taken over by chains of academies.
Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, appears to have won a Cabinet battle after calling for the schools budget to be safeguarded in the 2015-20 Parliament. The Tories made such a pledge in their 2010 election manifesto but have been silent on whether it would be repeated this May.
Ms Morgan told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’re going to have more to say on schools funding very shortly but what I can say is that I am absolutely fighting for the schools budget to be protected.” She suggested the ring-fencing would apply to spending on five- to 16-year-olds but would not cover early years or 16- to 19-year-olds.
The Tories have already promised to safeguard the NHS and overseas aid budgets while making an estimated £50bn of cuts in 2015-20.
Sparing the schools budget will have a knock-on effect on local government, including social care; the Home Office, which is responsible for the police; the Ministry of Justice, which is in charge of prisons and the courts; and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, responsible for universities and pro-growth measures.
It will also leave Mr Cameron with a dilemma over the defence budget. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and many Tory MPs are pressing for a commitment to stick to the Nato target of devoting 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to defence.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that other departments would need to cut their budgets by about 29 per cent in real terms over the next five years if the NHS and aid spending were ring-fenced. If schools were also protected, that figure would rise to 31 per cent.
Last night David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, claimed the Tories had tried to impose a cash freeze on the schools budget in 2010 which would have meant a 10 per cent reduction in the current Parliament. He said the proposal was blocked by the Lib Dems.
The Lib Dems have promised to safeguard the entire education budget – including early years and post-16 spending – which will rise to £53bn a year in April. Mr Laws said: “The Tories tried to cut the schools budget in 2010 and I fear history is repeating itself in 2015. Their silence on the protection of the funding for early years, schools and colleges is deafening.”
Today, the Lib Dems publish their “Gove Files,” a 13-page dossier claiming that Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, tried to allow schools to be run for profit but was thwarted by the Lib Dems.
Ms Morgan unveiled plans to make all schoolchildren in England learn their times tables by heart, and be able to carry out long division and complex multiplication, by 11. They would be expected to pass tough tests before leaving primary school as part of a “war on illiteracy and innumeracy”, she said. Pupils will also have to pass a writing test.
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