General Election 2017: Are London schools set to gain or lose money?

Primary school classroom Image copyright PA
Image caption The National Audit Office has warned of a funding shortfall

Education is emerging as one of the key domestic policy battlegrounds in this election.

Parents and head teachers are keeping the issue of funding in the headlines, and all the main political parties have made a play for votes with eye-catching policies.

Before we look at those in more detail, let's consider funding. Is there enough money going into our schools? The answer, from classrooms across the capital at least, is a resounding no.

The Conservatives parrot the "record levels of investment going to schools" line almost as readily as the "strong and stable" leadership mantra. But many heads would sooner they changed the record entirely.

Rising costs

While it's true more money than ever is going into education, that's mainly due to rising pupil numbers. The costs facing schools are rising too.

Head teachers are having to foot the bill for staff pay rises, increases in National Insurance and pensions, all with a flat-rate of cash which doesn't rise with inflation.

The National Audit Office predicts a £3bn shortfall across England by 2020. In London, split evenly, that amounts to six teacher posts per school.

Perhaps with this in mind, the Conservatives are pledging to increase the schools budget by £4bn over the next Parliament.

To help balance the books, they plan to scrap free school meals for all infant pupils, although those from disadvantaged backgrounds will still receive a meal - and all children will instead be entitled to a free breakfast up to the age of 11.

They will push ahead with "fair funding", a new simplified model of funding schools across the country which will benefit rural areas but leave the majority of London schools worse off.

Theresa May also firmly believes grammar schools can achieve her aim of improving social mobility.

But the debate continues as to whether they really provide better opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Interestingly the language in the Conservative manifesto alludes to "selective schools", not grammars specifically, so there is wriggle room.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Head teachers have raised concerns about funding in recent months

Labour have perhaps gone the furthest of all the parties in terms of broad appeal, offering sweeteners across the education spectrum.

From extending free school meals to all primary aged pupils, through guaranteeing to provide enough funding in 'real terms' for all schools, to an ambitious plan to scrap tuition fees and the creation of a National Education Service. They want to ensure there are education opportunities "from cradle to grave".

All costly, but the rhetoric plays well at the school gates. Jeremy Corbyn says schools have been "starved" of funding for too long, and he plans to slice from the rump of a hefty rise in Corporation Tax to help feed them.

Free school meals

Tax breaks for private schools are also in the firing line to help pay for a raft of proposals which total £20bn.

For the Liberal Democrats education is a sticky wicket. The ghosts of 2010 still haunt the party. They drew a red line over raising tuition fees, only to U-turn completely in coalition government. The scars run deep with university students, so its focus is on winning over parents with big investment instead.

Tim Farron is pledging to plough £7bn into education, which includes £1.5bn for cash-strapped London schools. Again, he is targeting big business to pay for it, promising to raise corporation tax.

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Universal free school meals at infant stage was originally a Lib Dem idea, and they, like Labour, want to extend the offer across primary up to the age of 11.

The Greens want to scrap SATs, end the academies programme and plug the funding gap with £7bn raised from Corporation Tax.

The rise of parent pressure groups demonstrates the strength of feeling around education issues. Packed meetings across the capital are springing up on a weekly basis.

Whoever forms the next government may have to dig deep or the chorus of concern will continue.

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