Be 'honest' over where catch-up cash is from, DfE told

Schools deserve to know which parts of DfE budget are plugging the catch-up fund, says influential MP

Amy Gibbons


The government is refusing to say which existing budgets will be used to plug a multimillion-pound hole in its Covid catch-up fund, after the schools minister admitted that some of the cash is not new money from the Treasury.

Last month, the government announced a new Covid catch-up package, said to be worth £705 million. However, it emerged that £300 million of this cash had already been announced by the prime minister in January.

Tes repeatedly asked the Department for Education (DfE) to specify whether the remaining £405 million was new money from the Treasury, or whether it had been taken from existing education budgets.

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Schools minister Nick Gibb has now admitted that, while "over half" of this money is "new funding", the DfE has "contributed towards the cost" by repurposing funds from its existing budgets.

In answer to a written question submitted by Labour's shadow schools minister Wes Streeting, which asked how much of the £705 million catch-up package was new money, Mr Gibb said: "As announced by my right honourable friend, the prime minister, the £300 million funding for tutoring represents additional funding from Her Majesty's Treasury, including a contribution to support the academic elements of secondary level summer schools.

"Elsewhere, the package makes available a further £400 million across the 2021-22 academic year. 

"While over half of this is new funding, the department has contributed towards the cost of this package through reprioritising funding from within the department's existing budgets.

"This includes funding from unallocated headroom where adjustments to forecasts have enabled us to release additional resources. Where we have identified additional resources, it is right that we have prioritised them to the front line."

Tes asked the DfE to specify exactly how much of the £405 million was coming from its existing budgets, and where savings were being made, but it refused to provide an answer.

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, told Tes today: "It is vital that we have complete honesty about where the money is coming from. As schools try and plan, they need to know what money they've got to play with.

"Their budgets are already being stretched in different directions. And if the government's announcing new money and raising hopes it's got to very quickly tell the schools and the local education authorities where that money is, how much and when it's going to come to them."

"And when they've announced what they've made isn't actually new money, they need to be really clear about that. Because just playing with schools and pupils who have already been through, you know, hell and back, and pupils have lost out massively, this catch-up funding is vital, but they need to have certainty so they can plan."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "The government needs to be honest with school leaders and parents about how much additional investment it is actually putting in.

"Also, repurposing 'old money' is not going to be sufficient to provide a route out of the pandemic for young people.

"The government's recovery commissioner says that current levels of funding will need to increase. This needs to be new money from the Treasury, not repurposed money.

"Ministers have been warned before about announcing funding levels in a misleading way. It appears that they have not heeded these warnings."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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