Katy Balls

Will education be the big Budget loser?

Will education be the big Budget loser?
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Which departments will fare the worst from this week's Budget? It won't be the Department for Health and Social Care. Over the past few days, new funding announcements have appeared in the papers meaning the NHS will be handed another £5.9 billion. That's in addition to the £12 billion a year investment it will receive as a result of the health and social care levy. Meanwhile, Whitehall sources suggest that Michael Gove has had some luck in his push for more funds for the levelling up agenda.

Where the mood music is less positive is education. When Sir Kevan Collins stepped down from his role as Boris Johnson’s education catch-up tsar over the summer, it was down to the government saying no to his request for £15 billion for a comprehensive catch-up plan. This involved extending the school day — a pricy endeavour — so as to help make up for the hours pupils had lost from the classroom as a result of Covid. At the time, Treasury sources suggested that such a large sum of money could not just be granted at request. Given the government had already committed £3 billion, any such demand would have to go through the appropriate channels ahead of the spending review.

It's why there has been an expectation among industry figures and some Tory MPs that education funding will be a key theme of Wednesday's announcements. The Chancellor has been out and about, talking about new funding for new childcare and early years support with the creation of new family hubs. But on the subject of lost learning, it seems that those pushing for new funding could be left disappointed. The Children's Commissioner Rachel De Souza has said that she is 'very keen' on the extended day.

Only when Rishi Sunak spoke to me and Tom Newton Dunn on Times Radio this Sunday, he was dismissive of the idea – saying he was unconvinced by the evidence:

There isn’t as strong an evidence base for it, compared to things like tutoring and improving the quality and support that we give to teachers. That’s what a lot of that £3 billion that we’ve announced is doing. Six million courses of tutoring — that is going to make an enormous difference.

What's more, the Chancellor suggested that he does not think extra catch-up money will be effective:

It is pretty clear that the two things that make the biggest difference to children’s learning is tutoring in small groups, and making sure that our teachers have all the development and training and support they need. We have pretty much maxed out on those things because there is just a constraint on how much of that can be reasonably delivered.

While Sunak is expected to unveil funding for new T-levels programme and skills training for adults as well as some funding for catch-up, it seems a safe bet that any such package will at the very least fall short when it comes to calls from De Souza and others to lengthen the school day.