Restoring the £370 million that was mistakenly added to school budgets after a funding gaffe would be “irresponsible”, the schools minister has said.
Labour called ministers to the Commons this afternoon to answer an urgent question after the Department for Education admitted it had inflated the 2024-25 school budget by 0.62 per cent after miscalculating pupil numbers.
A review has been commissioned into the error and schools have since been reissued with new initial budget allocations for next year.
Bridget Phillipson, shadow education secretary, said the gaffe was not a “one off” and is “part of a much bigger pattern of Conservative mismanagement” for 13 years.
But Nick Gibb, schools minister, said “what would be irresponsible would be to increase funding for schools by the 0.62 per cent solely as a result of an error by officials.
“That is not how government spending systems work. It has to go through the proper value for money procedures and that’s how we always conduct our allocation of taxpayers’ money.”
It follows Gibb dismissing union calls to restore the cash.
The amount of funding for next year remains the same, at £59.6 billion. But the increase in per-pupil funding is actually 1.9 per cent, rather than the 2.7 per cent schools were originally told.
The error was first identified in September but it was not announced until 5pm on Friday, October 6 – two days after the Conservative party conference finished.
Pressed by MPs on why it took a month to tell schools, Gibb said when he was told about the issue by officials, “my instinct is always find out what the error is, rectify it as quickly as possible and that took about four weeks compared to the normal six weeks in calculating the NFF [national funding formula] and then publish those figures as rapidly as possible.”
Gibb said the DfE team is “one of the best teams I’ve dealt with and this is an error by officials: they’ve owned up to it and we’ve corrected it”.
He did not answer questions from Phillipson over the timeline for the review and how it would be reported to MPs.
Schools have so far only been told initial allocations for their funding next year. Actual allocations will be based on pupil numbers in the October school census, conducted earlier this month.
However, allocations data published in July is used by schools and councils to give themselves an indicative idea of their future budgets.
Conservative MP Vicky Ford, former children’s minister, told the Commons an academy trust in her constituency was predicting a “concerning” £70,000 budget difference as a result.