I guess the Chancellor wanted some good news to announce ahead of his Autumn Statement this week where the accepted mood music is of a round of cuts to department’s budgets. Is that the reason he leaked a reminder of the review of school funding and the creation of a national funding formula for schools to the BBC yesterday.
This news no doubt helps keep the f40 Group of largely Conservative shire counties happy and hopefully distracts them from the fact that they won’t benefit as much from the council tax increase allowed this year to pay for growing social care budgets as unitary authorities and London boroughs will because their council tax is split with district councils.
There didn’t seem to be anything radically new in the Chancellor’s announcement on school funding, but it is interesting to speculate how Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate for London mayor, reacted to the news. As the BBC report noted, London boroughs will be the main losers in any redistribution of cash to schools, assuming there is insufficient cash to allow everyone to be a winner, as might have been the case if Labour had grasped this nettle before the 2008 recession. Will Conservative voters in the capital accept the news with equanimity or, like most losers in these situations, feel hard done by?
Now I suppose that the Chancellor is gambling that part of any loss through the change in the formula that will adversely affect London, where the funding per pupil is greatest, will be mitigated by the increase in pupil numbers which will bring more cash overall, if less per pupil.
A 100 pupils bringing £5,000 each generates half a million pounds for a school. If that was reduced to £4,500 the school would need to recruit 111 pupils to generate roughly the same amount. This would inevitably mean larger classes. While that might be possible in the secondary sector, where pupil teacher ratios have improved in recent years, it would be a real challenge for the primary sector where many schools are already running at capacity because of the extra pupil numbers that have been enrolled during the past few years as the baby boom generation entered schooling.
The other group that may be worried by the announcement are school leaders and governors. This blog has already shown that staffing schools in London is a real challenge. Any reduction in funding may make it more difficult to offer competitive salaries compared with schools in the Home Counties. Now schools in London with large numbers of pupils receiving the Pupil Premium will be protected against the change to some extent, but less so in the secondary sector than in the primary schools.
Of course, the Chancellor may also be going to announce backing for the third runway at Heathrow. In which case he may have calculated that the Conservatives have already lost the South and West London vote next May so he might as well announce all the pain at the same time and have done with it. Losing the London mayoral race might be small price to pay for winning the Conservative leadership race by pleasing the Tory shires. But, surely, I am just being an old cynic.