Department for Education

‘Utter farce’: DfE says sorry for funding email gaffe

Trusts given 'false hope' they would no longer have to bid for repairs cash

Trusts given 'false hope' they would no longer have to bid for repairs cash

20 Oct 2023, 10:55

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Blundering Department for Education officials mistakenly told trusts they are in line for regular repairs cash, prompting one leader to brand the latest gaffe relating to funding an “utter farce”.

Schools Week knows of at least four trusts who were told in an email yesterday afternoon they now “meet the eligibility criteria for” school condition allocations (SCA) next year.

The money is a guaranteed sum provided to larger trusts and councils annually – while smaller chains have to instead apply for one-off grants through the fiercely-competitive condition improvement fund (CIF).

But a few hours later they got another email in which officials urged them to “disregard” the correspondence that was “sent in error” and issues an apology.

‘False hope’ given by Department for Education mistake

Vic Goddard, co-principal of Passmores Academy in Harlow, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, last night to say: “Yet another cock-up by the DfE/ESFA as dozens of schools receive letters saying they will receive school condition allocation funding next year just to be told they got it wrong and we aren’t at 6.56pm tonight. Utter farce.”

Meanwhile, North Star Community Trust CEO Marino Charalambous said the message left him wondering whether government had changed its funding criteria, as he is about “450 pupils short of SCA”.

Trusts have to have more than five schools, or 3,000 pupils, to qualify for regular capital funding through the SCA.

Charalambous believes “somebody needs to be quality assuring what goes out from the DfE because it gives a lot of people false hope”.

“Having to apply for capital funding for repairs or projects is challenging and time consuming, so if it’s factored into your budgets then it saves you from that whole process…and you can any maintenance works that needs to go. It would have been a nice reward for schools to have that in their budgets.”

Department for Education apologises

The original email featured a letter confirming the recipient’s “multi-academy trust meets the eligibility criteria for” 2024-25. It told leaders to ensure they share the information with each of their schools.

The DfE’s follow-up message noted that officials “appreciate the time and effort that goes into planning CIF bids and making plans for SCA and are sorry for the confusion this may have caused”.

“We apologise that this email was sent in error – please disregard it. As a trust that meets the criteria for CIF for financial year 2024-25, your schools will have been contacted earlier today to invite them to bid for CIF.

“This information was sent correctly and confirms your schools’ eligibility to bid for CIF.”

This comes after the DfE’s £370 million funding gaffe last week which saw ministers admit it had inflated the amount of money schools would get in 2024-25 by 0.62 per cent after miscalculating pupil numbers.

It 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.

The DfE has since blamed the mistake on an “admin issue”. It stressed “this was a communications error…it has no implications for funding”. 

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