DfE dismisses 'unrepresentative' Ofsted school funding study

The Department for Education has dismissed the findings of a damning Ofsted report on school funding, claiming it is “based on a very small and unrepresentative sample”.

The watchdog’s study, which was published this morning, is based on a survey of 201 headteachers, telephone interviews with 18 other school leaders, focus groups of inspectors and research visits to 16 schools.

We recognise schools have faced cost pressures in recent years

It found that schools were “feeling the pressure” of real-terms cuts in funding, and warned plans by the government to inject £7.1 billion into the schools budget will still leave leaders grappling with gaps in other local authority services.

The publication of the full report comes after Ofsted inadvertently published and then took down a blog post by chief inspector Amanda Spielman, which warned of impact on the breadth of curriculum, teacher workload and SEND support in some schools as a result of funding pressures.

But a DfE spokesperson today dismissed the report, and insisted all schools would receive an increase in funding next year.

“This report is based on a very small and unrepresentative sample of schools,” the spokesperson said.

“We recognise schools have faced cost pressures in recent years. That is why we are providing the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade, giving every school more money for every child.”

But Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the report was “impossible for the government to ignore”.

“In this new report Ofsted says clearly that schools are ‘under significant financial pressure’. We can be in no doubt that Ofsted thinks school funding is insufficient and that this is having a negative impact on young people,” he said.

“So close to the budget, it will be difficult for the new chancellor to talk about ‘record levels of school funding’ when the government’s own school inspectorate reports that 42 per cent of primary leaders and 48 per cent of secondary leaders say that their schools will be in debt by the end of the 2019–20 budget year.”

In her blog post, Spielman said schools were working in a “challenging financial environment” following real-terms cuts of around 8 per cent over the past decade.

However, she has also faced criticism for her comments about financial management in schools.

“Poor decision-making in response to financial pressure is potentially harmful to quality of education,” she wrote. “But this could be as big an issue when funding is increased. Funding can still be squandered when it is plentiful, meaning taxpayers’ money could be wasted for little benefit.”

Whiteman said he disagreed with the chief inspector that schools have made poor choices about funding.

“School leaders do not ‘squander’ money. They are infinitely resourceful at getting the most out of every penny.

“They have to be, because the school funding picture in the UK is anything but ‘plentiful’.”