The government has quietly slashed tens of millions for fixing crumbling classrooms in “left behind” areas – in the same week it promised to level up the country.
More than 100 large academy trusts, councils and dioceses will be left £55 million worse off in a shake-up of school condition allocations (SCA) grants.
Councils affected include eight of the new 55 “education investment areas” targeted for extra support on Tuesday under “levelling up” plans – North Yorkshire, Norfolk, Bedford, Stoke, Rotherham, Halton, Swindon and Plymouth. They stand to lose £5.4 million.
Meanwhile, 44 trusts and dioceses with more than 500 schools in these areas stand to lose £13.3 million.
Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the changes are of “significant concern.
Leaders plan well in advance for building work to take place and some may have to now revise these or dig into already under-pressure budgets to fully fund the work they have scheduled.”
SCA funding is a routine annual grant for capital repairs and projects for councils and large multi-academy trusts, voluntary-aided bodies and sixth-form colleges.
Schools were informed of the change – for cash covering the financial year starting in just two months – in a letter on Monday from the Department for Education’s central capital unit.
DfE claims funding has been simplified
The DfE has revised its SCA funding so it “more accurately reflects condition need, and is simpler and easier to understand”. This includes using data from more recent school building surveys and more up-to-date pupil numbers.
The reforms came into effect in 2021-22, but many affected organisations will have barely noticed as the DfE provided “transition protection” top-ups worth £55.8 million to ensure no one lost out.
But the letter reveals how this top-up funding will be gradually tapered off each year.
DfE has said it will cap losses at 25 per cent of current income in 2022-23, though it still means the worst-affected council, Enfield, overall losing almost £2.5 million next year. It did not respond to request for comment.
Cuts will ramp up year-by-year until all the protection cash has gone by 2025.
A document explaining last year’s allocations stated only that the “protection amount may be reduced in future years”, and gave the example of this being triggered if a school moved to a different responsible body.
118 organisations will lose schools cash
Schools Week analysis of official figures shows 118 bodies overall will now lose the transition cash.
Jon Chaloner, chief executive of GLF Schools, said his trust has work planned based on previous years’ allocations. The trust will lose £239,548 of funding.
“It’s disappointing that such a cut has been communicated late in our planning cycle,” Chaloner said. “It is a significant sum to lose. Another significant sum.”
The five biggest trust losers include Academy Transformation Trust, ARK Schools and Tudor Grange, which received £7.8 million between them last year.
The DfE letter stated they have “sought to balance the need for stability in the allocations of responsible bodies affected with the need to focus our available resources on the most severe condition need in the system”.
It also adds the “intent is for the reduction in funding needed to support transition protections to be recycled back into overall condition funding”.
But Chaloner said he “continues to believe that a decade-long agreed investment programme in education, in the classroom and estates, is essential.”
The government’s own building survey found the school estate needs £11.4 billion of investment to get it up to scratch.
A spokesperson for school leaders’ union NAHT said: “We need a far more ambitious programme of capital investment from government for schools to be able to deliver the education that the current generation of pupils need and deserve.”
The DfE did not respond to request for comment.