The Department for Education will not rule out the extra money Boris Johnson has promised for schools being used to cover increased pension costs and extra resources for high needs SEND, Tes can reveal.
The prime minister has pledged to increase school funding by £4.6 billion a year by 2022-23 to reverse real-terms funding cuts since 2015.
However, although Mr Johnson repeated his pledge in the House of Commons last week, schools have not been told when they will receive the funding, or what it will cover.
Johnson: PM 'must honour funding pledge'
The cost of a 43 per cent increase in schools’ contributions to teachers’ pensions is one of the biggest potential threats to school funding.
The Treasury has said it is covering this additional cost until 2020, but has not said whether it will continue to do so after this. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated the cost at £1.5 billion a year.
And today, given the opportunity by Tes to rule out the possibility of schools being expected to cover their increased employer pension contributions from within the £4.6 billion extra, the DfE declined to do so.
The department was also unable to give any assurance about the possibility of increased demand for high needs SEND funding being met from the extra billions supposed to be going to schools.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, accused the government of coming up with “vague figures that look great in a headline, but lacking in clarity behind the headline”.
He added: “Schools are still making cuts going into the autumn term to account for that lack of certainty, because warm words don’t bring us any relief.”
The seriousness of concerns about funding was highlighted by news that thousands of heads are planning to march on Westminster next month to demand more money.
The DfE told Tes that Mr Johnson had only been in post for a week, discussions about school funding were taking place between it, the Treasury and 10 Downing Street, and no decisions had been made.
Mr Whiteman said that if the pension costs had to be found from within the £4.6 billion “it completely erodes the impact of the money that’s being talked about”.
Jules White, head of the WorthLess? school funding campaign, said: "It's important not to pre-judge any announcement but the comments from the DfE exemplify why heads are so worried.
“If the government announcement is designed – like so many in the past – to sound good, rather than make a real and meaningful long term difference to funding, then heads will be incensed.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, criticised the “no-man’s-land of school and college funding”.
“The latest set of confusing messages about where high funds funding might be finally directed is a good example of where the real issue – how to support children and young people with specific, deep-rooted needs – is being trivialised by a government whose messages alter by the day, sometimes by the hour,” he said.
When Tes asked for more details about Mr Johnson’s school funding pledge, a DfE spokesperson said: “The prime minister has made clear that we will increase minimum levels of per-pupil funding in primary and secondary schools and return education funding to previous levels.
“We will make further announcements in due course.”