Election manifestos 2017: The party policies on education

Think-tank warns that Tory government plans will mean further cuts to strained budgets

(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

England's schools will suffer years of funding cuts if the Tories win next month's general election, an economic think-tank has warned.

Luke Sibieta, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told The Guardian the Conservatives' proposals "would lead to a near three per cent real-terms fall in spending per pupil over the parliament, taking it back to its 2010 level".

A report from the public accounts committee in March warned that England's schools were under the most intense financial pressure since the mid-1990s, potentially risking the quality of education they could provide.

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So where do the main parties stand on school funding?

Theresa May and the Conservatives

While the Tory manifesto is comparatively short on numbers, preferring instead to outline wider "visions", it does also include a few concrete figures, including a pledge to add £4bn to the education budget.

However, Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), says the banner pledge is "inadequate" and "misleading" because it actually promises "only £1bn per year" while schools need £2.2bn more per annum to "cover the impact of inflation and cost increases imposed by the government".

In terms of the overall budget, the Department of Education's claim that the Conservatives have increased school spending to all-time record levels is technically true, says the i newspaper, but per pupil expenditure has stagnated for the last five years, meaning there has been a real-term reduction when inflation is taken into account.

The manifesto also defends the controversial "fair funding formula" of assigning school budgets, which critics say will leave schools worse off, as well as the decision to scrap free school lunches for pupils in reception and years one and two in favour of free breakfasts.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour

Labour's manifesto would give England's schools an extra £6bn a year. There will also be a boost in funding for Sure Start centres, which were introduced under Tony Blair to provide free childcare and pre-school services for disadvantaged families but have since been subject to budget cuts and closures.

The party also pledges to oppose grammar schools, expand free school meals provision to cover all primary-age pupils and reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance for lower-income students in further education.

The NUT praised the commitment to Sure Start, early years education and establishing a centralised national education service as "a sign of policy which is grounded in evidence and experience".

However, the Education Policy Institute, chaired by former Liberal Democrat education minister David Laws, was sceptical about Labour's plans for higher education, which include abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants, saying it would cost up to £13.5bn.

Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats

Like Labour, the Lib Dem manifesto promises to reverse government real-terms cuts and pledges £7bn of extra funding to ensure no schools lose out.

The party also says it would halt plans to reintroduce grammar schools, ensure that arts provision is protected and triple the Early Years pupil premium to £1000 a year, which they say will guarantee a fair start for all children regardless of their circumstances - a "very welcome" promise, said NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney.

The NUT also applauded the manifesto for "offering a wider vision in which teachers can meet the needs of the child not the demands of a test".

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