The claim

“We’re spending more over the next four years in school buildings than the last Labour government spent over its first eight years.”


Education Secretary Michael Gove, 25 October 2011

The background

Michael Gove received a rather damning school report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) today, offering the gloomy news that schools and universities face the worst cuts since the 1950s.

Capital spending alone – which funds school buildings – is set to drop by 60 per cent over the next four years.

Shadow education minister Stephen Twigg said: “Michael Gove should be going back to the Treasury, back to George Osborne, getting the extra money for school buildings that are so obviously needed”.

But Mr Gove rejects the image of kids taking classes under “leaky roofs”. In fact, he claims the government is spending more over the next four years than Labour did in its first two parliaments.

Who gets top marks?

The analysis

The government plans to cut capital spending for education from £7.6bn over the last financial year 2010-11, to £4.9bn in the current year, and each year thereafter – bringing it down to £3.4bn in 2014-15 and spending a total of  £15.8bn over the four years.

By contrast, Labour’s capital spending on schools between 1997/98 and 2004/05 totted up to £15bn in cash terms, or about £20bn in today’s prices, according to the IFS.

This government’s £15.8bn over four years certainly does not add up to more than £20bn over eight years under Labour’s first two terms, so how can Mr Gove have got his maths so wrong?

The Department for Education explains that he should have mentioned averages. The DfE said: “There will be a total of £15.8bn of capital spending over the period. Although this amounts to a 60 per cent reduction in real terms in capital spending over the period, the annual capital budget will be higher than the average annual capital budget in the 1997-98 to 2004-05 period.”

This claim looks fine, though it does mean that in 2014-15, the capital budget for education will be about the same as it was what it was in 2002-03 in real terms.

Plus Luke Sibieta, co-author of today’s IFS report, told FactCheck that the cut for the DfE’s capital budget is far deeper than other government departments – which are facing average capital spending cuts of 28 per cent.

The DfE’s cut to capital spending comes second only to that of the Communities department’s cut of 75 per cent – funds which are mainly spent on social housing.

The verdict

The key difference between the Labour and coalition governments’ education spending is on capital budgets.

The IFS’s report says that other than that, there is actually “remarkable similarity” in the two government’s priorities: both favoured shifting money away from higher education and towards schools.

FactCheck has to tick off Mr Gove for a schoolboy error – total spending on school buildings over the next four years will not eclipse spending under Labour’s first eight years. He should have clarified that he meant average annual spend.

Mr Gove’s problem is that Labour cranked up the spending in its final term – announcing a seven-fold increase in capital spending for schools in 2008-11, proclaiming it to be the “biggest commitment to improving schools for generations“.

Mr Gove says Labour was spending money that it didn’t have and is pulling back the capital budget by 60 per cent.

“We need to get more for less,” he said today.

Clearly, but it’s worth pointing out that the move will revert schools’ capital budgets to the state they were in 2002.

Yet in 2011, population growth sees us plagued by primary schools desperate for more space.

And FactCheck notes there’s still no word on where the funding will come from for the new Free Schools’ buildings.

By Emma Thelwell