Budget: Government finds half a billion for schools - and kickstarts the grammar revolution

Treasury makes announcement ahead of Wednesday's Budget

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The government is providing more than £500 million for free schools and building maintenance, the Treasury has announced.

Writing in today's Daily Telegraph the prime minister Theresa May says at least some of the money will be spent on building a new generation of grammar schools.

The news comes when schools are being told to find £3 billion of savings by 2019-20, which heads warn will force them to make "impossible choices" that could damage pupils' education.

The government is now providing £320 million to help fund up to 140 free schools. Of these, 30 schools will count towards the government’s existing commitment to open 500 free schools by September 2020, while "the majority of the remaining 110" will open afterwards in the next Parliament, according to the Treasury.

Therese May writes: "If we are to give our children and grandchildren a fair chance to succeed in an ever-more competitive world, we have to build a future where's every child can access a good school place.

"That means decisively shifting Britain's education system and building a great meritocracy so that children from ordinary working families are given the chances their richer contemporaries take for granted."

A further £216 million will be invested in school infrastructure to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools. This will build on existing plans to spend more than £10 billion on the condition of schools over this Parliament, the statement said.

TES asked the Treasury whether the £216 million was included in the £23 billion of capital funding that has been previously announced. A spokesman said it was "entirely new money".

A National Audit Office report last month found that at least £6.7 billion is needed to restore all school buildings to a satisfactory condition. It also raised questions about the cost effectiveness of the government's free schools programme, with 20 sites exceeding their official valuation by more than 60 per cent, "indicating that the department had to pay a premium to secure the land required."

The Treasury has also announced today that the current "extended rights" entitlement for children who access free home-to-school travel is being extended to cover selective schools.

This is aimed at ensuring that the cost of transport is not a barrier to children from disadvantaged backgrounds who wish to attend a selective school. It means that children on free school meals or whose parents claim the Maximum Working Tax Credit will now receive free transport to attend a selective school within two to 15 miles.

Asked where the cost of transport had been raised as a significant barrier to poorer children attending selective schools, the spokesman said: "There are a number of reasons why there are less children from disadvantaged backgrounds at selective schools. We want to make sure that no one makes the decision on where they send their children based on cost."

Prime minister Theresa May said: “For too many children, a good school place remains out of reach with their options determined by where they live or how much money their parents have.

“Over the last six years, we have overseen a revolution in our schools system and we have raised standards and opportunity, but there is much more to do.

“As part of our commitment to creating a school system that works for everyone, today we are confirming new investment to give parents a greater choice of a good school place for their child, and we will set out the next stage of our ambitions in the coming months.”

It follows an announcement by chancellor Philip Hammond at the weekend that new "T-levels" are to replace thousands of post-16 vocational qualifications.

There is no indication at present that Wednesday's Budget will address widespread concerns about the real-terms funding cuts facing schools or the impact of the proposed national funding formula for schools, for which the government's consultation ends on 22 March.

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