The Department for Education has been asked to find savings of “at least” 5 per cent as part of the spending review, leaving it facing cuts that could amount to £4.5 billion and prompting fears of an impact on school budgets.
The Treasury announced this week that the spending review, a plan for public spending over the next three years, will accompany the autumn budget on October 27 this year.
Ministers have announced plans to increase funding for health and social care in the wake of the pandemic by raising national insurance contributions, but are looking to find savings elsewhere.
Given the impact of Covid-19, the Treasury said spending plans would be “underpinned by a focus on ensuring every pound of taxpayer funding is well-spent, so that we can continue to deliver the highest-quality services to the public at the best value”.
Departments have “therefore been asked to identify at least 5 per cent savings and efficiencies from their day-to-day budgets as part of these plans, which will be reinvested in our priorities”.
The instruction, which is in similar to one given in early 2020 before the pandemic began, has prompted unease in the school community.
School spending is two thirds of DfE’s budget
Spending on schools represents almost two thirds of the Department for Education’s £89.6 billion resource budget, and a 5 per cent cut overall based on 2021-22 spending would leave the department having to find almost £4.5 billion.
The Conservatives pledged in 2019 to raise overall school funding by £7.1 billion in cash terms over three years. But that settlement only lasts until 2022-23, whereas the spending review will set out funding plans up to 2024-25.
Despite the recent funding rises, schools are still warning they face having to cut budgets. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned last week that per-pupil school funding would remain below 2009 levels in real-terms by 2023, despite the extra cash.
A survey by the NAHT leadership union this week found two thirds of primary leaders believe they will have to make cutbacks to balance their books in two years’ time.
NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said the organisation’s report showed schools “require more investment, not further cuts”.
He said it was “imperative” frontline services like education get the “funding they require to perform their part of the nation’s recovery mission”, and said a failure to invest would put a “massive dent in the work that schools are able to do”.
Efficiencies should mean ‘more money to schools, not less’
“That needs to be rectified urgently. If efficiencies can be found in the department, this ought to mean that more money can be passed onto schools, not less.”
Geoff Barton, the leader of the ASCL union, said the government “must not be under the illusion that its additional £7.1 billion three-year investment in schools through to 2022-23 means the job is done”.
“We are fully aware of the pressure on public finances but it is our view that the education of our children and young people is a national priority and that if levelling up is to mean anything at all then it must certainly mean a better-funded education recovery package and better-funded education system.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he would set out “how we will continue to invest in public services and drive growth while keeping the public finances on a sustainable path”.