The government just said it’s investing millions more in schools, but it’s actually a cleverly disguised cut

Theresa May Schools
Steve Topple

On Tuesday 24 October, the government announced it was “doubling” some funding for primary school pupils in England. It also said it was “investing” millions more in two separate programmes. But behind the press release, the reality is very different. Because the money isn’t new. It’s either a rehashing of an old announcement, or a cleverly disguised cut.

Money, money, money

The Department for Education (DfE) has said it’s:

doubling the funding that primary schools receive to improve the quality of their PE and sport provision from £160m to £320m a year…

It’s also:

investing £100m through the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund to facilitate improvements to children’s physical and mental health… using the soft drinks industry levy…

And the DfE will be:

investing a further £26m in breakfast clubs.

The PE and sport provision funding gives maintained (local authority) schools, on average, £17,985 a year each [xls, chart 2] and academies £16,770 each [xls, chart 3]. This works out at £62.24 per pupil, per year [pdf, p3].

But what the DfE doesn’t say is where the £100m for the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund and the £26m for breakfast clubs is coming from.

Robbing schools… to pay for schools

As The Canary reported in August, when Education Secretary Justine Greening announced an “additional” £1.3bn for schools, buried in the small print was the fact that this wasn’t new money. Instead, it would be scraped from savings made in other areas of the DfE budget. Specifically:

  • £420m “efficiency savings” from the DfE capital budget. £315m of this will come from the Healthy Pupils Capital Programme.
  • £280m from the ‘free schools’ budget.
  • £600m over two years from the DfE resource budget. This is the money the DfE has for day-to-day spending and administration.

So if the government was already cutting £315m from the Health Pupils Capital Programme, where has this £100m suddenly come from? And where has the £26m for breakfast clubs been found?

Cooking the (school) books?

The Canary asked the DfE for an explanation. It directed us to Children and Families Minister Robert Goodwill’s statement, adding:

All of the new funding comes from the soft drinks industry levy – £100m for Healthy Pupil Capital Fund, £26m for breakfast clubs and an additional £160m a year for the premium.

The levy is forecast to raise £385m a year, less than the original £520m [pdf, p12]. But the DfE has not said three things:

  • The doubling of PE and sports provision is not new. It was in the March 2016 budget [pdf, p12].
  • Its Healthy Pupil Capital Programme was originally worth £415m [pdf, p13]. So the “£100m investment” is actually a formal announcement of the £315m cut Greening mentioned in August.
  • Where the leftover £99m from the soft drinks levy is going.

For all the government’s talk of “unlocking” children’s “potential” and “talent”, the only thing it seems keen on ‘unlocking’ is yet more savings in the name of its ideological austerity regime.

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