Schools minister Nick Gibb has dismissed calls from unions to restore £370 million stripped from next year’s school budgets after a funding gaffe.
Last Friday, the Department for Education admitted it had inflated the schools budget for 2024-25 by 0.62 per cent after miscalculating pupil numbers. It means schools will receive less than they were told in July to expect for that year.
They called on ministers to honour the £370 million error, which would have increased school funding by 2.7 per cent per pupil.
But in a response sent today, Gibb confirmed the government was proceeding with a planned 1.9 per cent increase in per-pupil funding.
He stressed “comprehensive measures are being put in place” to ensure the gaffe is not repeated.
‘A very unfortunate error’
Describing the blunder as a “very unfortunate error”, he added that the episode “has not undermined the record levels of funding totals that the department has promised”.
“I want to be very clear that the republication does not change the total core schools budget for 2024-25 at £59.6 billion. This is the highest ever level of school funding in our history in real terms.
“Within this total we will deliver an average 1.9 per cent increase in funding per pupil in 2024-25 via the national funding formula, compared to this year – as per the republished allocations.”
The mistake means a typical secondary will be £58,000 worse-off than it expected based on indicative allocations published in July. An average primary will be £12,000 worse off.
Schools use July allocations data as an indicative idea of future budgets, which they are expected to forecast over three-year periods.
In an email on Wednesday, the DfE tried to downplay the situation, saying school leaders who had not already started planning would “not need to re-plan on the basis of this change”.
Despite this, Keegan ordered an investigation into the error, while Susan Acland-Hood, the department’s permanent secretary, has apologised.
‘No impact on current funding’
In his letter, Gibb added “this change has no impact on current funding for 2023-24”.
Schools’ allocations for 2024-25 will be finalised by March, as per usual, and the “republication does not change this”, he said.
Gibb insisted that the republished funding rates will be the ones “the government uses to deliver final allocations, regardless of what now happens to actual pupil numbers in the 2023 October census”.
“If those pupil numbers outstrip current forecasts, we will continue to honour these rates as we have done in previous years. The technical error made by DfE officials in processing forecast pupil numbers is a completely separate matter.”
The error was in adding up how many pupils will receive cash next year. It is understood the mistake was down to pupil numbers for at least one council that recently split into two not being counted.
Just the pupil numbers for the original council, and not the new one, were factored into funding calculations.
In their letter yesterday, the unions warned some schools were facing “the very real prospect of cuts to provision”.
They highlighted a pledge by Rishi Sunak at the Conservative Party conference to make education his “main funding priority” in future spending reviews.
The department told Schools Week on Friday it had discovered the error in September, but did not say when in the month it was found.