A Department for Education schools minister has said he does not support “pouring more money into inefficient schools”.
Lord Agnew said he would “fight hard” for more funding for the system, but that “we must get our own house in order collectively”.
He also revealed that the DfE has written to the candidates in the Conservative leadership race to outline its funding priorities, and said that he was personally “worried” about post-16 education, high needs and rural primaries.
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Lord Agnew was addressing academy leaders at the Confederation of School Trusts’ summer conference this morning, and was asked about school funding in a question-and-answer session.
“Those of you who have dealt with me on this funding [issue] will know that I have a slightly nuanced approach to it, which is I absolutely want to see more go into the system but I do not support pouring more money into inefficient schools,” he said.
Funding: 'Schools must get their house in order'
“We do need to make sure that the system itself is rigorous in the way it uses its money, and then we have a very strong argument for more funding.”
Lord Agnew said he had seen at first hand the scale of hidden waste in schools when he set up the Inspiration Trust – a chain of academies in the East of England.
“I’m not in any way saying that funding isn’t tight, but at the core of our system we need to get better at how the money is being spent. I hold myself as an example when I was running my own trust.
“Three years into running my trust, even though I’m supposedly an experienced businessman, 35 years at it, I had stripped all of what I thought was the obvious waste out of schools.”
However, he said that when he deployed curriculum-led financial planning – a tool developed by Outwood Grange Academies Trust – “it showed us to be wasting £1.9 million and that was a bit of a revelation for me”.
The trust was able to reinvest this money into priorities such as taking over a failing school and lengthening the school day across the chain.
“We were in the position to make those decisions because we were running a tight ship,” he said. “That is the debate that I want to try and see around the funding. I will fight hard for the money, I can assure you of that, but we must get our own house in order collectively.”
Lord Agnew revealed that the DfE has written to Conservative leadership candidates about funding. “Only an hour ago I signed off or sent my agreement to a note that we are sending to all of the remaining prime ministerial candidates in the race at 5pm today,” he said.
“We’ve written a two-page note on what we think are our priorities for the spending review, the importance that we get this thing nailed down as quickly as possible.
“We’re doing all we can at our own level, but unfortunately these things are happening above my paygrade.”
He outlined the funding areas that concerned him: “I’m worried about post-16, for example. I’m worried about high needs and I’m also worried about remote rural primaries where it’s hard to recruit experienced people.”