£200m in catch-up cash taken out of education funds

Billion-pound recovery fund pledged in June last year was not all new Treasury money, report finds

Amy Gibbons

Some £200m of the £1bn Covid catch-up cash was taken out of existing education budgets, says National Audit Office

A fifth of the government's original £1 billion Covid catch-up fund was recycled from existing education budgets, it has emerged.

In a report published today, which examines support for children's education during the early stages of the pandemic, the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals that just 80 per cent of the billion-pound recovery package pledged in June last year was made up of new money from the Treasury.

This means that the Department for Education was required to divert £200 million from its existing budgets to cover the remainder of the costs.

Related: DfE won't say if £1bn Covid catch-up fund is new money

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The NAO report states: "Of the £1 billion total funding, 80 per cent was additional funding from the HM Treasury reserve and the department took 20 per cent from other budgets."

Covid catch-up cash came from existing education budgets

Tes has asked the DfE to specify which budgets this money was taken from, but the department is yet to provide an answer.

The billion-pound scheme was jointly announced by No 10 and the DfE last summer.

It included £350 million to pay for the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), along with £650 million to be shared across state primary and secondary schools.

The government said at the time that the cash earmarked for the scheme would be in addition to the £7.1 billion three-year funding settlement announced in 2019.

Back in June last year, Tes asked the DfE to clarify whether the entire £1 billion package was new money from the Treasury – but the department would not give a straight answer.

A spokesperson said then: "This £1 billion catch-up package will be additional to the core schools budget paid out through the national funding formula, which is increasing by £2.6 billion next year."

Asked again where exactly the extra money would be coming from, the spokesperson said they had nothing further to add.

Since the billion-pound package was announced last year, the government has pledged a further £705 million for the recovery effort.

Some of this cash – £300 million – was announced by the prime minister in January. It is entirely comprised of new money from the Treasury.

But schools minister Nick Gibb has admitted that a portion of the remaining £405 million, which formed part of the new catch-up drive set out by the government in February, will also be drawn from existing DfE budgets.

He said that, while "over half" of this money is "new funding", the department has "contributed towards the cost" by repurposing funds from its existing budgets.

The government has refused to say exactly where this cash will come from.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "This pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to all areas of life, but we have acted swiftly at every turn to help minimise the impact on pupils' education and provide extensive support for schools, colleges and early years settings.

"Schools have been open to vulnerable pupils throughout the pandemic, and getting all children back into the classroom – as they are now – has been the department’s number one priority during the periods of national lockdown.

"We have invested over £2 billion into schemes to provide pupils with devices for remote education and ambitious catch-up plans – with funding targeted at disadvantaged children and young people who need support the most."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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