The coalition's spinners have been claiming that schools will be protected from the Chancellor's axe on Wednesday. I hope they are right. But anyone seeking to get behind the spin might ask the following five questions first, if they are not to be surprised when many schools suggest otherwise once they see their budgets.
1. Will schools have their total revenue budgets protected at least in real terms, including funding for specialist schools (worth £129 a pupil) and the school development and personalisation grants? A July consultation paper proposed allowing local authorities to impose their own formulae on this funding, creating winners and losers.
2. Most schools rely on a range of external services, often delivered by the local authority, to support the poorest pupils. These include pupil referral units, truancy officers, special needs support and free school transport. Will these be protected or will schools have the funds to provide alternatives? After all, many local authorities have already starting axing them?
3. Will schools continue to have their own formula capital funding to allow them to make repairs and undertake improvements without having to ask the local authority?
4. Is there provision made for an increase that allows for demographic changes - primary rolls are rising again, and per pupil funding needs to be increased to recognise this if school funding is genuinely not being cut?
5. Understandably, teachers' salaries are being frozen next year. Has the equation assumed no increasing in teaching costs, and a 'real terms' calculation being made that way. If so, how do schools cover incremental increases and performance threshold rises?
Additionally, we await real details of the pupil premium, which will average less than £2bn a year. Will the extra money be provided equally on a per pupil basis to all those on free school meals, or a comparable measure, or will it only be provided in reality to FSM pupils in areas that had gained less from Labour's increases? While this could both be justified and happily benefit Tory and Lib Dem constituencies, it would not narrow the gap between rich and poor, particularly if inner city schools lose some of the infrastructure on which they depend.
The reality is likely to be that schools will be better protected than most public services. But if the government is not to suffer disillusionment in schools when the reality of the funding settlement is reflected in budgets, it would be wise to be totally honest about what will survive - and what won't - on Wednesday.
This post also appears at Public Finance.