One of the totems held up by Lib Dem Coalition supporters whenever it's pointed out that teaming up with Dave, George and the gang of horrible muppets who make up the Tory contingent on the Front Bench is not wholly consistent with a principled approach to promoting fairness in society by pragmatic redistribution of wealth is the Coalition Agreement commitment to the Pupil Premium:
We will fund a significant premium for disadvantage pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere
Where 'elsewhere' is wasn't explained, other than that it was elsewhere - the ID Cards budget, the DEFRA kitten drowning fund, we don't know. Crucially in informed commentary on the subject, the point about it being new money to the education budget was seen as crucial. Here's Teacher Talks in August:
But, given the context of cuts here and cuts there (with the Spending Review to come!) the premium will also have the task of offsetting the overall squeeze on school budgets. And, of course, we don’t know how much the premium will be or where the money is going to come from. A cut, say, in Sure Start or nursery education, to pay for the premium wouldn’t be ‘fair’ (unless Clegg says it is!) and would have a little, no or even a negative net effect on educational inequalities.
Or perhaps the Independent, in June:
A pupil premium is not a bad idea. As the Lib Dems envisaged it in their manifesto, it would provide schools with an extra £2,400 a year for every poor pupil on their rolls, at a total cost of £2.5bn. While the coalition agreement endorsed a "significant" premium, it declined to specify a sum, though it did promise it would be funded from outside the schools budget.
But unless a pupil premium is wholly new money, is linked to strong outcome measures related to social mobility and to a much more equitable approach to school admissions, it is unlikely to achieve its objectives.
So, good idea, if it's new money. So will Nick and his supporters be rushing to object now that Michael Gove has admitted publicly that, er, it's not new money, and some of it will come from trimming the budgets of other schools, thus robbing Peter to pay Paul?
The £2.5bn policy - a key Lib Dem manifesto pledge - will increase the budgets of schools in England with a higher proportion of poorer children.
But Mr Gove told BBC1's Politics Show this would mean some schools "will have less".
Somehow we doubt it, although Simon Hughes appears to have discovered his backbone again, and is making bleating noises, telling Channel 4 News:
...we wanted a pupil premium that was an add on. If it's not..then again there is clearly work to be done
It's an important crunch point this - if the reaction to a fairly calculated unilateral snub to a policy clearly stated in the Coalition Agreement as involving new money is as muted as we expect, then it's another step to the removal of any expectation of the Lib Dems acting as the cuddly, caring brake on the Tory juggernaut.