The Conservative party has pledged £1 billion for schools to plug gaps in their budgets, but will be stopping subsidies for infant free school meals.
Free infant lunches in schools currently cost £650 million per year.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies say the plans will amount to 2-3 percent real-terms cuts in per pupil spending, because of rising costs and pupil numbers.
Both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, have pledged extra school funding.
Conservative education manifesto plans
- £1bn extra for schools in England, mostly funded by ending free meals for all infants
- Remove the ban on grammars and review admissions policies
- Teachers would not have to pay back tuition fees while they stayed in teaching
- Maths specialist school in every big city
- More academies sponsored by universities and independent schools
- More faith schools
- Universities to be supported in setting up investment funds for spin-offs from research
Under the Conservative plan, schools would avoid losing out in cash terms when a new funding formula is introduced, which has been estimated as requiring about £350 million per year.
But the IFS says the cash boost will not match increasing costs in schools’ budgets, stating:
“No school will see a cash-terms cut in spending per pupil, but most will see a real-terms cut.”
The action on school funding follows a campaign by head teachers over cash shortages – with the National Audit Office saying that schools faced a £3 billion funding gap.
Head teachers’ leaders accused the Conservatives of “sleight of hand” over the funding proposals – saying that what is being offered is not enough to “counteract the rising costs which are hitting schools”.
The additional funding will mostly be drawn from scrapping free hot lunches for all infant pupils, a policy introduced by the coalition government as a way of improving health, and used by about two million children.
There had been a budget of about £1bn to launch the free meals in 2014 – including the cost of installing kitchens.
The National Association of Head Teachers said it was a “poor policy decision” to scrap a project that has “yet to be evaluated”.
School meals for infant pupils will be means tested again, under the Conservative proposals, with those on low incomes not having to pay.