The Budget 2017: an opportunity to succeed and prosper missed?

Phil Reynolds of Kreston Reeves dissects the impact of the 2017 Spring Budget on education; exploring whether it’s an opportunity to succeed and prosper missed

There was a real focus on building for our future productivity in today’s Budget with education being one of the hot topics. Philip Hammond wants to “make sure our children have the same opportunities to succeed and prosper” as he did. Will today’s announcements help achieve this?

First things first

Firstly, the government confirmed it will invest £320m to help fund 140 free schools – in addition to the 500 previously announced. Thirty of these schools will open by September 2020. These new free schools will be supported by universities and the barriers to setting up faith schools will be removed. They will also be located in areas of need to help improve the choices for parents. The money will be spread over the next few years.

However, the National Audit Office recently revealed that the Department for Education (DfE) had spent £850m on site costs for 175 free schools – so will £320m be enough to help fund 140 schools?

However, this will mean a further restriction on how a school can spend the money when they would prefer this to be part of their “general” pot

Secondly, a further £216m will be invested in school maintenance taking this Parliament’s investment in school condition to well over £10bn. This equates to around £9,000 per school.

Thirdly, although there has been a shortfall in the sugar tax revenues, the government will commit to giving the DfE £1bn to spend on sports activities and facilities. However, this will mean a further restriction on how a school can spend the money when they would prefer this to be part of their “general” pot.

Finally, those children who qualify for free school meals or whose parents claim Maximum Working Tax Credit will receive free transport to attend the nearest selective school in their area. The government estimate this will cost £5m per year from 2018-19 spread across four years.

The education sector will be disappointed to hear no offer of help to reduce the continued budget cuts they have to tackle going forward

Filling the skills gap

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For those in further and higher education there was the announcement of T-Levels, a new 16-19 Technical Education qualification, being introduced from 2019-20. These are designed to help reduce the confusion within the technical education system and help boost skills for potential employers.

But yet again, the main talking point is that the education sector will be disappointed to hear no offer of help to reduce the continued budget cuts they have to tackle going forward. Headteachers are now writing to parents highlighting the crisis their schools face and have warned that teachers’ jobs will be cut.

The questions left unanswered

The chancellor said that “89% of schools in England are good or outstanding” – so why not continue to help these schools grow and meet these standards of education? Why are we investing so much money in building brand new schools when 89% of the ones we already have are delivering per Ofsted grades? Yes, some more schools are needed as our population grows but do we need as many as forecast? Free schools appear to be being funded though not necessarily where there is a need for places. Surely this funding should be used to help expand existing good or outstanding schools?

If 89% of schools in the country are delivering then surely the Chancellor has missed an opportunity to invest in these schools and their children – school budgets are near breaking point and the announcements today will not change that.

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