EDUCATION Secretary Nicky Morgan has said she sees “no reason” why a Conservative government would end the protection of schools funding after the next election despite dire warnings about the level of cuts that will be needed in public spending.
In the wake of last week’s Autumn Statement, scepticism has grown over whether the protection given to schools, health and international development spending under the coalition can continue after the next election.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said the Government was on track to reduce public spending to levels not seen since the 1930s while the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies described the scale of cuts implied by the Chancellor’s financial plans as “colossal”.
But the Education Secretary insisted she would be making the case for the ringfencing of schools spending to continue if the Conservatives win in May.
She said: “We have made it very clear that we have already managed to make significant public spending savings in this Parliament while also lifting the income tax threshold, doing a number of other things, keeping fuel duty down, council tax.
“We have taken a decision as a Government that the particular protections are around the early years and primary and secondary because that really is about building the future.
“We’ve done it in this, what has been a very difficult, time and we did come in at a time when we had a lot of hard work to do to get the economy fixed.
“I would like to think, I can’t write the next Budget, can’t write the next Spending Review, but I see no reason to think we couldn’t do that again.”
Mrs Morgan was speaking at an event at Outwood Grange Academy, near Wakefield, where she was quizzed by more than 100 school leaders.
The Education Secretary admitted the Autumn Statement had made it clear whoever is in power after May will have to make “difficult economic decisions” but she wanted to see money going into schools rather than spent on Whitehall.
The Government has spent more than £1bn helping parents and other groups set up free schools where they are unhappy with existing local provision.
Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee of MPs expressed concern that the schools are being set up in districts already relatively well served and not in areas where there is the biggest need for extra places.
Speaking after the event, Mrs Morgan insisted that the free school programme represented a good use of public money.
She said: “What we are seeing now is the majority of the free schools that are certainly in the pipeline and the ones we have approved in the latest wave, which is wave eight, are dealing with basic need for places.”
She said when free schools currently in planning open, the whole programme will have created an additional 200,000 places while the Government is also putting more than £7bn into creating places elsewhere in the system.
Mrs Morgan said there was a space in the education system where parents who are not happy with the educational offer can say ‘you know what, we are not standing for this’.”