George Osborne has been trumpeting his plans to protect school budgets. And by the standards of some other departments, Michael Gove has had a good settlement, even if the logic of Osborne's budget should be that education is more important than health. But he shouldn't be surprised if his plans are not received with enthusiasm at the chalkface once schools see their budgets.
The reason is that, as Osborne admitted, per pupil funding and Sure Start funding will only be protected in cash terms, not in real terms. As Charles Clarke discovered when he tried to reform the distribution of funding in 2004, therein lies a recipe for grief further down the line. With the likelihood that local authorities - bizarrely - will be able to reorder priorities for several key grants, including specialist schools funding, there will be many schools worried that local authorities will choose favourites and penalise the very independent-minded leaders most likely to become academies. The details of how the pupil premium is distributed are crucial - and it is funded from the 'real terms' increase in school spending.
And, the scrapping of education maintenance allowances will remove a real incentive for learning from the poorest young people. If a more targeted fund administered by schools and colleges is introduced, it is important that it is strong enough to ensure that those who should stay in education can do so. EMAs were better at this than 16-18 child benefit. It is good that some new schools will be built in future, but the 600 planned over four years will include primaries as well as secondaries, suggesting a rate of progress that is relatively slow and doesn't even deal with the 700 lost BSF projects. It represents a real terms cut of 60% in education capital.
The addition of new apprenticeships is welcome, but there is nothing new to improve the skills of adults who we need to be able to adapt to the changing global environment, as Train to Gain is scrapped and the adult FE budget is slashed. And, in higher education, it looks like the huge cut in the teaching grant has been built in. All in all, education may have fared better than it might have, but there remain huge questions over the real impact of this review at the frontline.
This post also appears at Public Finance.