'Ministers are not learning lessons from NHS cuts': Four education funding warnings issued by MPs today

A damning report by the Public Accounts Committee today warned the government does not understand the cost pressures facing schools. It has outlined four areas of concern:

Charlotte Santry

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1. The Department for Education needs to learn from the problems facing the NHS

The Public Accounts Committee wants the DfE to take note of the problems faced elsewhere in the public sector. For example, "unrealistic" NHS savings targets have created staffing gaps in hospitals, according to today's report on the financial sustainability of schools.

The report says: "We asked the [DfE] about the risks that schools could end up in a similar position to the NHS...We are concerned that the department does not seem to recognise the similarities and the opportunity to learn lessons."

Recommendation: The committee has asked the DfE to write to it by the end of June outlining how its approach to schools reflects lessons from other sectors such as the NHS.

2. The Education Funding Agency is not intervening enough where schools are at financial risk

The agency's interventions aren't always resulting in academy trusts successfully tackling financial problems, the committee found.

A new "approach" aimed at preventing academies from getting into financial trouble was due to be piloted from January 2017 and introduced in full this month. The DfE is yet to respond to a question posed by Tes last week - and again, this week - as to whether this is in place.

Recommendation: The committee wants the EFA to set out by the end of June how it will refine its approach - including how and when it will evaluate the effectiveness of its own interventions.

3. The DfE hasn't properly assesssed the cost pressures facing schools

The MPs found many of the DfE's policy changes – such as curriculum and assessment changes – have cost schools money, for example because they have had to buy new textbooks.

Recommendation: The committee has asked the department to publish, by the end of April, an assessment of the impact of withdrawing the Education Services Grant.

The MPs also want the department to speak to headteachers about the savings they are facing and how useful they find the DfE's guidance and support.

4. The full impact of the cuts may not be known until 2021

The DfE has said it will use Ofsted reports and assessments to check that educational standards are being maintained.

But "we may not know the full impact on educational outcomes until 2021 when the new GCSE results come through", which "will be too late for the children who are in school now", says the report.

Recommendation: By the end of June, the DfE should develop and publish a set of indicators it will monitor to ensure school outcomes aren't being adversely affected by the savings. These could include the breadth of curriculum, class sizes and pupil:teacher ratios.

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Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry is deputy news editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @CharlotteSantry

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