More than half a billion extra for new free schools, budget small print reveals

8th March 2017 at 16:44
The budget includes a previously unannounced £655 million for new free schools, some of which could be selective.
Additional funding comes amid union anger over lack of money for existing schools

The government has earmarked hundreds of millions of pounds in previously unannounced money to expand free schools, a budget document has revealed.

Ahead of today’s budget, the government said it would invest £320 million to help fund up to 140 free schools in England.

It said 30 of them would open by September 2020 – and count towards the government’s pledge to create 500 new free schools this parliament – while “the majority” of the remaining 110 would open in the next parliament.

However, documents released after chancellor Philip Hammond made his budget speech this afternoon show he has allocated a larger sum of money for 2021-22.

The budget papers give a figure of £655 million, which includes money that will be transferred to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Barnett Formula.

That is expected to leave about an extra £550 million to be spent on free schools, some of which may be selective, in England.

The government said the £320 million it originally announced was for the current parliament, and would fund the initial 30 free schools, as well as helping with the pre-opening capital costs of some of the remaining 110 free schools due to open later.

It is believed that further funding for the programme may be allocated in later years.

Mr Hammond told MPs: “Today I can announce funding for a further 110 new free schools, on top of the current commitment to 500.

“This will include new specialist maths schools to build on the clear success of Exeter Mathematics School and King’s College London Maths School – which my RHF the Prime Minister visited earlier this week.

“We commit to this programme because we understand that choice is the key to excellence in education.”

In the budget debate, former Conservative minister Andrew Murrison said he opposed further grammar schools.

He told MPs: "I fear it as a development because of course the flip side of that would be an increase in the number of secondary modern schools, which I don't think has been positive in the past and I would not like to see visited on areas like mine in the future.

"And I would be concerned if the measures announced today, which do appear to advantage, disproportionately, free schools seeking to select their intake, were grammar schools by the back door."

Unions leaders criticised the chancellor for prioritising grammar schools and free schools, instead of existing schools.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said he had failed to provide extra support for schools.

He added: “For many schools, this budget was their last chance. In our annual Breaking Point survey published in January, 72 per cent of school leaders told us that their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019. For them, this Budget was a chance to address this, and they will be bitterly disappointed by the total absence of extra money for schools.”

 

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