Nick Gibb 'comfortable' with schools' approach to cost cutting

The schools minister Nick Gibb has said he is “comfortable” with the way schools are dealing with rising cost pressures.

It comes despite headteachers recently revealing how they are having to cut back on textbooks, cleaning and maintenance to balance the books, on top of making teaching and support staff redundant.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts schools face an average real terms budget cut of 8 per cent by 2020, and Gibb admitted this was a “challenge” for leaders.

However, when asked by Labour MP Cat McKinnell at an education select committee today if he was “comfortable” with the way cost pressures were being handled by schools, Gibb said he was.

“It has been a challenge and we are providing advice and support to schools about how to manage a budget in the most efficient way.”

Support available to schools will soon include access to a ‘national buying scheme’ for non-staff costs such as ICT infrastructure, but heads claim they are already using such measures.

Natalie Perera

Rising pension and national insurance costs, coupled with new pressures such as the apprenticeship levy and hiring targets, mean schools are losing money despite a pledge by the government to protect core schools funding in this Parliament.

Natalie Perera, from the Education Policy Institute, warned this morning that real-terms cuts could hit 11 per cent by 2021 if additional funding is not allocated in the 2020 spending review.

Last week, the same committee heard from three headteachers about the agonising cuts faced by their schools as costs rise and funding remains flat.

Gibb was questioned as part of the committee’s inquiry into plans for a new national funding formula, but the focus of the hearing quickly became the general financial health of schools.

The formula will redistribute school funding in a bid to address historic regional inconsistencies, but many schools will lose money at a time when budgets are already under significant pressure.

However, Gibb argued that school funding was being protected despite efforts to deal with “an historic budget deficit”, and that the new formula would be fairer.

“It could be argued that this is the wrong time to introduce a national funding formula,” he said.

“I would argue that it is precisely the right time, when schools are facing those cost pressures, to ensure that the money that we do have is distributed fairly and according to need.”

It comes as governors in West Sussex are threatening to ‘strike’ over school cuts.

Governors in the area have written to MPs to say they will refuse to carry out duties such as signing off budgets or carrying out supervisory work unless their “urgent concerns” are addressed.

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