While chancellor George Osborne failed to mention education in his budget speech, the full report includes measures for reducing “back-office” spending in schools.
The document says: “In education, evidence shows that the best performing schools focus their spending on teachers over the ‘back-office’. However, spending on back-office costs varies from £202 to £1,432 per pupil, and between 2003 and 2013 back-office spending per pupil in maintained schools increased by about 60 per cent in real terms.
“To help schools further improve their efficiency and focus their budgets on providing excellent teachers for their students, the government is launching a number of initiatives.”
Measures include improving benchmarking information so that schools can compare spending, tools for parents to access spend information, and a pilot cost-comparison tool aimed at helping schools identify a target price for commonly purchased items.
The report also proposed a secondary legislation change enabling academies to claim up to £750 more in gift aid through an increase in the ceiling for the gift aid small donations scheme (GASDS).
The change increases the maximum amount that can be claimed through the GASDS, open to all charities including academies, from £5,000 to £8,000 per donor from April 2016.
The policy has been welcomed by Phil Reynolds, academies and education manager at accountancy firm Kreston Reeves.
He said: “The increase will help provide schools with an opportunity to boost their funding. The maximum annual donation amount which can be claimed will increase to £8,000 enabling gift aid claims of up to £2,000 per year, currently £1,250.”
Mr Reynolds also welcomed the government’s information-sharing plans but added that benchmarking tools were only valuable if regularly updated.
He said: “Improved benchmarking will be welcomed by the education sector however, it will only be valuable if up to date and relevant.
“Currently the data provided by the Department for Education (DfE) is not provided quickly enough and therefore this does not enable schools to make timely decisions to implement the change required to make a difference – particularly when budgets and funding is tight.
“The cost comparison will be a useful tool for schools with tight budgets and decreases in funding.”
However, Mr Reynolds warned that schools will need to consider the regional variation in cost of certain items.
“Also, schools will need to be mindful that the cheapest is not the best. Schools must focus more on the value for money ethos being promoted by the DfE,” he added,
The relative lack of announcements in the budget about education has been lamented by various organisations, including the National Union of Teachers.
General secretary Christine Blower said: “Local authority services of real value to schools have been cut back or have disappeared altogether. As pupil numbers soar, the government – obsessed with its damaging academies and free schools programme – has cut capital investment and prevented local authorities from opening schools where they are needed. Sixth-form colleges have seen particularly severe cuts, yet the government refuses to end their liability for VAT while schools and academies have these costs reimbursed.”
Meanwhile, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Mary Bousted said: ““Now the growth forecasts have been revised upwards, the government should take the opportunity to row back from continuing to make severe cuts.”