A Labour government would increase education spending at least in line with inflation if it wins the general election in May, Ed Miliband has announced.
The Labour leader’s announcement that the Department for Education’s £58 billion annual budget would be protected in real terms comes shortly after David Cameron said spending per pupil would be protected only in cash terms by Tories.
However a former advisor to Michael Gove has said that if in Labour’s planned funding is not increasing per pupil then it will also be a real terms cut because of the expected rise pupil numbers over the next parliament.
Launching Labour’s education policies in a speech at his former school in north London, Mr Miliband also pledged to limit primary school classes in England to no more than 30 pupils if the party gains power.
Mr Miliband accused Conservatives of planning “big cuts in spending” on early-years education and further education, after Mr Cameron failed to mention them in his promise to protect school spending in cash terms.
He promised that a Labour government would protect not only school spending in England but also early-years provision, childcare, special education services, the pupil premium, grants for Sure Start centres and spending on further education, sixth forms and apprenticeships for 16 to 19-year-olds.
Mr Miliband said protecting educational provision was a key factor in reducing inequality and providing opportunity for all.
“The generational question facing us is whether we are fated to be an economy and a country in which a few people do fabulously well, while most people work harder and harder just to keep their place,” he said.
“If we do not give every young person the skills and knowledge they need we will lock in a two-tier economy.”
He accused Tories of planning to sacrifice education to the demands of a “dangerous and extreme” policy of reducing public spending as a proportion of GDP to levels not seen since the 1930s, with the aim of eliminating the deficit and running a budget surplus within the next parliament.
Mr Miliband said: “You can’t build a 21st century economy on falling investment in education.
“This Government used to say it would protect schools. But last week the Prime Minister abandoned that commitment and said he would cut schools spending, driven by his plan to cut back public spending as a share of national income to 1930s levels, an era when children left school at 14.
“We will take a different path. And we can do it because we have a sensible, balanced approach to deficit reduction. Not a dangerous and extreme one.”
He added: “All of us know that the success of our children depends so much on the first steps children take in the early years and the further education they go on to.
“David Cameron has had nothing to say about any of these areas. So we can only assume he is planning big cuts in spending. This will short-change our children’s future.
“If we are to act on the principle that education is the passport to success in life for individuals and our nation’s economy, we must be willing to invest in the early years, in schools and in further education.
“The next Labour government will protect the overall education budget. Rising budgets, protected in real terms, every year. Not cut as they will be under the Conservatives.
“Because our future prosperity depends on our young people. And we will not, we must not, let them down.”
However a former advisor to Michael Gove has said that if Labour’s funding pledge is not made per pupil it could actually be a cut of around 9.5 per cent.
Sam Freedman, who is now a director at the TeachFirst charity, said that if funding rises with inflation but does not take into account rising pupil numbers it is also a real terms cut.
He has previously said that he believed the Conservative plan for a flat cash funding protection would actually result in a real terms cut for schools of 10.5 per cent.
He added that Labour’s plan was a better deal for early years and post 16 providers who were not covered in the Tory pledge. He also said that Labour’s deal would be increasingly beneficial to schools the more inflation increased.