Credit: This story was first seen in the Guardian
Headteachers should be able to achieve an ambitious target of £3bn in cuts and could apply for government loans if they fall into deficit, the top civil servant in the Department for Education has said.
The Guardian reports that Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the DfE, told the public accounts committee that efficiency savings expected by government were “doable” without larger class sizes, curriculum changes or damaging pupil performance.
His claims were questioned by MPs who pointed out the National Audit Office had raised concerns the department had not outlined how schools would make £3bn worth of savings.
Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said: “This report shows you have got a very ambitious savings target…there is a disconnect between what you are asking schools to do and your knowledge and understanding of what the impact will be on pupil attainment.”
Slater said: “I would not say it’s easy. I would say it’s doable, because I have seen evidence of schools doing it.”
He said the department had not sought for schools to be exempt from the apprenticeship levy, which critics say will increase pressures upon small school budgets. The levy, to be introduced in April, requires all businesses – including schools – with a wage bill over £3m a year, to contribute 0.5% of their wage bill to fund new apprenticeships.
Slater said he viewed the levy as an opportunity for training in schools which should be available within two years. Caroline Flint, the former Labour minister and committee member, said his claim was “incredibly thin”.
Slater, who moved from the cabinet office in April, told Flint most schools would be asked to take on loans if they fell in to debt.
His appearance followed those of three headteachers, who said the cuts were already affecting their schools. Liam Collins, head of Uplands Community College, said the school was being cleaned less often, the grass cut less often, its ICT systems had not been upgraded, and the budget for staff training had been reduced. All three headteachers said the department was failing to listen to their concerns.
In conclusion, Hillier said MPs were concerned about the impact the savings being asked of schools would have on pupils in the classroom.