Where will Greening’s ‘cheaper’ free schools come from?
When education secretary Justine Greening announced in July that schools were gaining an extra £1.3 billion over two years, it was seen as a sensible political move. But with £280 million of that money supposed to come from the free-schools programme, the decision could have consequences for the flagship policy.
Greening implied that the saving would be achieved by expecting local authorities to take some of the burden. “In delivering the [free schools] programme, and the plans for a further 140 free schools announced at the last Budget, we will work more efficiently to release savings of £280m up to 2019-20,” she said.
“This will include delivering 30 of the 140 schools through the local authority route, rather than the free schools route.”
Tes has established that local authorities will have to pay for the schools out of their existing budgets for new school places – at a time when these funds are under serious pressure. The 30 schools will count towards the government’s plan for an extra 500 free schools by 2020.
But if councils cannot afford them or do not want to set them up, where does that leave the high-profile target?
The “local authority route” refers to an existing process whereby councils run competitions between prospective school providers as to which one should operate a new school. But the final decision rests with the Department for Education.
These “presumption schools” have always been paid for out of local authorities’ “basic-need funding”, which is aimed at providing new school places. And a DfE spokeswoman confirms that this would be the same for the extra 30 schools, saying they “will be funded from the £5.8bn we have allocated to LAs between 2015-20 for the new places they need to create to accommodate increasing pupil numbers”.
But London Councils, which represents the capital’s 33 local authorities, warns that the money is unlikely to be enough.
Deputy chair Peter John, the executive member responsible for schools, says that the organisation “would be concerned if the DfE was relying on efficiencies within the £5.8bn basic-need funding pot to find savings”.
“We must await formal policy confirmation from the DfE,” he adds. “But this early indication is deeply worrying.”