Reforming schools funding was always going to be a test of strength for Michael Gove. If today’s interview on Andrew Marr is any clue, then he’s thrown in the towel in the first round. After months of preparing plans to bypass local authorities and fund all schools directly from Whitehall, he is now claiming that the plan was always to fund through local authorities. Here’s what he said about the story:
“The Financial Times ran a report of what they thought was going to be in the white paper, fair play to them, journalists often anticipate events, but the truth is that we will be funding schools through local authorities as we do at the moment.”
Ministers can often make claims like this when stories are based on briefings from their aides and officials. Conversations are deniable. But the FT’s story was not only confirmed by the officials we spoke to. It was in a draft White Paper that we were reading back to the department. It was supported by conversations we’d had with people who had been briefed on the consequences of the changes. None of the factual elements of the piece were disputed by education officials in the week after publication.
Of course there are caveats in any such story. There was a consultation planned and a final decision was to be taken early next year. No journalist can discount the possibility that a minister will buckle at the first smell of grapeshot. But one thing is clear. Directly funding schools was Gove’s preferred model a fortnight ago, before he was overwhelmed with fierce complaints from councillors.
Just to put the record straight, we thought it might be worthwhile to publish some extra extracts of the White Paper.