Free schools and healthy pupil scheme suffer under £1.3 billion funding boost

The education secretary has pledged to deliver free schools in a more “cost-effective” manner so she can divert savings to increase school funding.

School improvement funding and the healthy pupil pot – to build new sports facilities – will also have cash diverted to fund the £1.3 billion school funding boost promised by Justine Greening today.

The funding increase follows reports Greening could drop the flagship free school programme should she not be given extra cash to boost schools funding – amid concerns free schools are too expensive to deliver.

However Greening said today that while the free school programme is being “protected”, it would be financed “in a more cost-effective way”.

She said that 30 of the 140 free schools currently planned will be delivered through local authorities – saving £280 million by 2020.

The main saving of £420 million would meanwhile come from the capital budget – the majority of which will be taken from the healthy pupils capital funding (£315 million).

This is a fund announced by Greening herself in February, with a total of £415 million available to fund new sports facilities. The money was to be recouped from the government’s “sugar tax”.

But she said every pound of England’s share of spending from the levy will continue to be invested in improving child health, including £100 million in 2018-19 for healthy pupils capital.

The department saidit will then reprioritise from its existing budget £250 million in 2018-19, and £350 million in 2019-20.

The government will redirect £200m from the department’s central school improvement programmes towards frontline funding for schools, the department stated.

A source said “while these projects are useful, we believe strongly that this funding is most valuable in the hands of head teachers”.

Greening added: “This of course requires difficult decisions, but I believe it is right to prioritise core schools funding, even as we continue the vital task of repairing the public finances.

“By making savings and efficiencies, I am maximising the proportion of my Department’s budget which is allocated directly to frontline headteachers – who can then use their professional expertise to ensure that it is spent where it will have the greatest possible impact. I have challenged my civil servants to find efficiencies, as schools are having to.”

While the additional schools budget funding isn’t extra cash from the Treasury, it has been pointed out being allowed to move capital funding into the revenue budget is a win for the department.


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  1. Given that the NAO have told us two years running that the DfE can’t manage its own budget and has no idea what anything costs or how much it spends, should we not be expecting a major hole in its budget in the near future?

  2. Any money redirected to the front line won’t necessarily go direct to heads. As Schools Week reported elsewhere, some MATs are pooling all their academies’ funding and distributing it according to their priorities. These won’t necessarily match the priorities of their heads.