'Tory uprising' claim puts school funding row centre stage in campaign

Sally Weale and Peter Walker
Graham Brady, Tory 1922 Committee chair, said the government’s draft formula ‘could not work’. Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

The row over planned changes to school funding has taken centre stage in the general election campaign after a string of Conservative politicians called on the prime minister to rethink government proposals.

On the second day of George Osborne’s editorship of the London Evening Standard, the former chancellor chose to lead the newspaper with a story that said Theresa May was facing the first Tory party uprising of the general election over the new school funding formula.

In an article headlined “Tories: abandon school funding shakeup”, the paper said an investigation by its reporters had revealed that senior Conservatives were “lining up” to urge May to abandon the proposals.

Almost 20 Tory politicians were quoted expressing concern about the new national funding formula and calling for a rethink before the publication of the Tory election manifesto, which is expected in the next few days.

Osborne tweeted an image of the first edition front page, which he described as an Evening Standard exclusive, though numerous Tory MPs had made plain their opposition to the government’s draft proposals after they were announced in December.

While there is widespread support for the government’s promise to address longstanding unfairness in national funding, many Tory MPs were horrified to discover that schools in their constituencies would lose out under the proposed redistribution. The backdrop to the funding redistribution is an estimated £3bn cut to schools funding by 2020.

Among those quoted in the Standard was Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs. He told the paper: “It is quite right that the government is seeking to address this with a more consistent approach to school funding according to need.

“But it has been obvious since very soon after the draft formula was published that it could not work in that form. These were proposals for consultation – I look forward to seeing revised proposals in the near future.”

Nigel Evans, the former deputy Commons speaker, urged the prime minister: “When people say there are structural problems with the fairer funding formula as it currently stands, then please do what you are good at which is correcting it ... If she can’t correct it, junk it.”

Also quoted was Andrew Rosindell, who is seeking re-election as the MP for Romford. He later told the Guardian schools funding was an ongoing issue that needed to be addressed.

“I personally think it’s an issue that the government has got to look at, because clearly it’s causing controversy in many constituencies where schools are losing funding,” he said.

This was not just a concern among Conservatives, Rosindell said. “I hope, personally, that this is about making sure all schools are properly resourced. It shouldn’t be a political issue. I would think members of all parties would say the same,” he said.

A spokesman for the F40 group, which represents a group of the lowest-funded education authorities, said it was understandable Tory MPs were unhappy with the government’s funding proposals that were “obviously inadequate”, but it was vital fair funding remained a commitment.

“They have agreed the principle of fair funding; they’ve got to go through with it now,” he said. The F40 group is expected to present its proposals to reform national funding to government shortly.

A consultation on the new formula closed in March. One source said the Department for Education had received more than 13,000 contributions, which officials are processing.

Commenting on the London Evening Standard report, Angela Rayner, Labour’s education spokeswoman, said: “It speaks volumes that even Theresa’s own backbenchers realise her approach to school funding is simply an exercise in moving inadequate sums of money around.

“On top of this, their cuts to per-pupil spending will mean fewer teachers, cuts to school support staff and larger class sizes; while some schools are not even able to afford basic school repairs.

“Labour supports the principle of moving towards a fairer funding formula for schools and will ensure that all schools have the funding they need. Only Labour will build an education system accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few.”