Signs are growing that the government is cutting back flagship school-improvement programmes to help fund a pay rise for teachers.
Organisations that unsuccessfully applied for the £45 million second round of the Department for Education’s Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund (TLIF) were told on Friday that there had been a “re-prioritisation”.
The news comes at a time when the DfE is coming under increasing pressure to ensure schools do not have to fund a widely anticipated pay rise for teachers from their already-stretched budgets.
The announcement of a pay deal has been long delayed, amid a dispute between the DfE and the Treasury about how it will be paid for.
A raid on TLIF would suggest a shift in the department's priorities. Back in September, then education secretary Justine Greening said that the fund “proves our commitment to creating a culture of high-quality ongoing professional development throughout a teacher’s career”.
However, last week’s letter, sent to unsuccessful applicants, said: "Due to re-prioritisation, a decision has been taken to award only one contract in Lots 1 and 2, which will be awarded to the highest ranking bidder in each Lot."
Reports have also emerged that unexpectedly large numbers of bids to the third round of the £140m Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) have been turned down.
When she launched the SSIF in November 2016, Ms Greening said she wanted it “to not only transform outcomes for children by improving schools, but also to make sure our school-led system learns from that work”.
Last month, Tes reported fears that the TLIF could be scrapped to fund the boost to teacher pay.
The DfE is seeking money to ensure that funding for a teacher pay increase does not come out of existing school budgets, which heads have warned would push many into deficit.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told Tes: “It would be very disappointing if the DfE has to raid pots of money, like the school-improvement fund, because the Treasury won’t pay for a cost-of-living award for teachers, as recommended by the independent pay body.
“School-improvement funding is a lifeline for schools facing the greatest challenges and is important for the parents, pupils and communities they serve.
“Cutting that money to fund a pay award is a short-term answer to a political impasse in an education system which needs long-term thinking.
“The Treasury must fully fund the pay award.”
Official documents for the second round of the TLIF had said that bids to Lot 1 would be for contracts up to a maximum value of £999,999, while those for Lot 2 would be for up to £9,999,999.
So under the “re-prioritisation", these lots will be worth a maximum of £10,999,998.
The department had also invited bids of up to £15,750,000 for a third lot, which was for a new high-potential middle-leaders programme.
This means that if the DfE stuck to the original limits, the only scenario under which it had not cut the overall £45m pot would be if it had awarded contracts worth £34m for Lot 3.
The DfE has been approached for comment.