Everything hinges on the spending review, and 3 other things we learned at education questions

Education ministers took questions from MPs for the last time before summer recess.

Damian Hinds, the education secretary, and his ministerial colleagues were grilled on education funding and a raft of other issues in the House of Commons this afternoon.

Here are four things we learned.


1. Everything hinges on the spending review

Ministers faced dozens of questions about funding during today’s exchange, but were able to say very little about their future plans.

MPs pressed the DfE team on school, high needs and post-16 funding, but were told all of these would be matters for the upcoming spending review.

Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, also deflected a question about whether funding for the school breakfasts programme will continue beyond next March, and another about the future roll-out of holiday hunger trials, on the grounds they too will depend on the spending review.


2. DfE officials are ‘increasingly experienced’ on PFI

Quizzed by Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman on the support available for schools with costly PFI contracts, schools minister Nick Gibb acknowledged that such deals often caused “problems”.

But he said officials at the department were “increasingly experienced” at dealing with the issues the contracts present, adding that costs are addressed as part of the national funding formula.

Schools Week revealed last month how schools have been “snubbed” from accessing the Treasury’s new private finance initiative “centre of excellence”. It comes after several investigations have revealed how the hefty contracts are holding up takeovers of struggling schools. One school has been waiting for more than seven years to be taken over.


3. No backing for Boris’s school spending pledge

The ongoing Conservative Party leadership race has over the last few weeks prompted a number of funding pledges from candidates, some more generous than others.

Schools Week analysis published earlier this month revealed that Boris Johnson’s pledge of a guaranteed £5,000 for each secondary pupil could work as only £50 million extra funding – around 0.1 per cent of the total schools budget.

Quizzed on the figures, Gibb said it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for him to respond to the proposal, though he did welcome the fact that education had been such an important issue in the campaign.


4. Teachers should say it’s ok to be gay

Damian Hinds gave a short and concise answer when asked by one MP about LGBT-inclusive education.

Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, said she was asking the question on behalf of a headteacher in her constituency, who wrote to Hinds to ask it, but didn’t feel it was properly answered.

“What is a teacher to say to a child who asks is it ok to be gay?” asked Phillips.

“They should say yes,” replied Hinds.

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  1. The NFF has absolutely not addressed the issue of PFI. It’s one of the historic spend factors, and although the DfE has applied an inflationary uplift, it’s an average and it isn’t always enough to cope with the inflation indices used for individual contracts in local areas. LAs even have different phases of PFI projects with varying arrangements.
    I really doubt DfE will be able to come up with a formulaic approach that will fulfil the only acceptable situation in the Hard NFF, which is for every school to receive funding to cover the additional costs they are required to meet under their individual contracts.