Schools in England have been under considerable funding pressure in recent years. The press has reported schools considering staff redundancies, or closing early, in order to cope. Late in the last Parliament, the Johnson Government promised a real terms rise in funding. But will this be sufficient? Will the funding get to the schools that needed it the most?

But isn’t there more money than ever in the system?

Conservative governments under May and Johnson have faced criticism for repeatedly stating that there was more money going into the school system than ever before. While it’s true that the overall schools budget has increased, pupil numbers have gone up and schools face increased costs, including higher national insurance and employers’ pension contributions.

The available funding has therefore had to stretch further. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that school spending per pupil reduced by 8% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2018/19.

What did the last Johnson Government promise?

During summer 2019, the Johnson Government announced significant real terms school funding increases, beginning from 2020/21.

The announced funding would mean a real terms increase of £4.4 billion between 2019/20 and 2022/23. The chart shows these increases, year on year.

These figures exclude teachers’ employer pensions contribution funding, and post-16 funding.

How did commentators react?

The IFS said that the Johnson Government’s funding commitments would, by 2022/23, almost reverse the previous 8% fall in per pupil spending. However, this still represented a 13-year period with no real terms growth in per pupil funding.

While the announced funding was cautiously welcomed by many, critics pointed out that:

  • There was no extra money until 2020/21.
  • Secondary pupil numbers are projected to increase up to 2023, so the overall pot would have to go further.
  • The increases would occur over several years, so they wouldn’t immediately reverse real terms cuts experienced to date.
  • The funding might favour certain types of schools, or areas, and this might not be based on relative need.
  • The amount allocated to special educational need provision might not be enough. In 2020/21, there would be £780 million more for this area than in 2019/20. Specific allocations for future years were less certain.

How did the last Johnson Government plan to allocate its additional funding?

The extra funding from 2020/21 would be used for several things, including:

  • Introducing a new minimum per pupil funding level for primary schools: £3,750 in 2020/21 and £4,000 by 2021/22. Secondary schools would be allocated at least £5,000 per pupil from 2020/21. The changes to minimum per pupil funding levels would only account for a small proportion of the extra funding.
  • Faster implementation of the National Funding Formula (NFF). The Department for Education would pay in full any remaining gains due under the NFF, provide minimum cash uplifts for schools, and increase the cash value of core formula factors.
  • Higher starting salaries for newly-qualified teachers of £30,000 by 2022/23, an increase of more than £5,000 on maintained schools’ minimum starting pay in 2019/20.

Is the new national funding formula fairer?

As well as debate over the size of the funding pot, there are also issues over how the funding is divided up between schools. Some schools and areas have, for complex reasons, historically received higher rates of funding than others.

The 2017–19 Parliament saw the introduction of a new national funding formula to calculate core school funding for mainstream schools. Some funding sits outside the NFF, including the Pupil Premium, complex special educational needs funding, and sixth-form funding.

Although there’s widespread support for the concept of this formula, the question remains: is it targeting funding appropriately? The formula also isn’t currently fully implemented; until at least 2021/22, it’s operating in a ‘soft’ format. At school level, the NFF allocations are notional only. These notional allocations are summed and adjusted to provide block allocations at local authority level. Local authorities then decide how to share out funding between schools in their area, within DfE guidance. Schools’ NFF allocations for 2020/21 are therefore not what they actually receive. A hard NFF, routing money directly to individual schools, would require primary legislation.

Party positions during general election campaign

The Conservative Party’s commitments, set at Spending Round 2019, increase total core school revenue funding by £7.1 billion (cash) by 2022/23, compared to 2019/20. The Green Party manifesto pledged that funding for UK schools would be increased by at least £4 billion per year, in order to relieve financial pressures. The Labour Party manifesto committed to increase core school funding by £10.5 billion (cash) by 2022/23, compared to 2019/20. The Liberal Democrats said that they would increase core school funding by £10.6 billion a year (cash) over the course of the new Parliament – £7.6 billion of this by 2022/23.

Further reading

Insights for the new Parliament

This article is part of our series of Insights for the new Parliament. This series covers a range of topics that will take centre stage in UK and international politics in the new Parliament.