Osborne blueprint sees schools sigh with relief
Counting down the days to George Osborne's public spending speech this week, many heads, teachers and their governing bodies had been preparing for the very worst.
Ever since October 20 was set as the day of the comprehensive spending review, schools had been steeling themselves for the heaviest cuts since the Second World War.
But, inevitably, the Chancellor's bark was - at first glance, at least - worse than his bite. Up until last week, schools still expected Mr Osborne to impose cuts of 10 to 25 per cent on the Department for Education.
And yet by 2.30pm, schools were looking at a relatively paltry 3.4 per cent cut in revenue spending over the next four years, meaning that the overall schools spend would increase by 0.4 per cent in real terms over the same period, once the pupil premium - as announced last Friday - was included in the mix.
Mr Osborne declared his decision to protect schools spending as the "right choice for the country's future".
Speaking to The TES, Education Secretary Michael Gove said "unpopular" decisions made earlier this year, as well as an overall commitment to education by the coalition, made the settlement possible.
"Scrapping Building Schools for the Future and pushing through reform in the Academies Act ensured money was being spent more effectively and more efficiently," Mr Gove said.
"It was a great advantage that we had (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) Danny Alexander and George Osborne, who both knew how important this issue is and they are both committed to the overall reform programme.
"But teachers will face a two-year pay freeze and will potentially see an increase in the pension contributions, so we need to show them we care about education."
The settlement includes the pound;2.5 billion pupil premium, which will mean some schools will win from the deal while others will lose.
Brenda Bigland, headteacher at Lent Rise Primary School in Buckinghamshire, said heads will need to be clever about how they use their budgets.
"The smaller than expected cuts are welcome but the crux will now be how the local authorities distribute that money," she said. "In terms of the pupil premium, I don't think it will make much of a difference to a school like ours. We still have parents who refuse to claim free school meals (the measure that qualifies pupils for the extra cash) as it's a matter of pride. I don't think it will be a huge benefit."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said the settlement was not "as bad as first feared" but added that there would still be "winners and losers".
"If schools budgets are sustained in real terms, it looks as though the pupil premium will be making up much of it," Mr Hobby said.
"So schools in areas of high deprivation will find that their situation will not really change that much, but those in the most affluent areas will be facing a 2 to 3 per cent reduction in funding over the next four years. That will feel very uncomfortable for them."
However, the full impact of Mr Osborne's announcement is unlikely to be understood until it is administered. The devil will not be so much in the detail, but rather the delivery.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the deal could largely be welcomed by schools, there would be many tough decision for headteachers to make as their budgets become squeezed.
"The true impact on education won't be clear until more detail emerges over the coming weeks and months," he said. "Schools will be better off than many of the public services, but a real terms increase of 0.4 per cent over the next four years means that schools will need to make tough choices on spending."
He also warned that there are many problems in the pipeline for funding post-key stage 3, problems that would hit schools as well as colleges. "The financial outlook for post-16 is much more worrying and decisions made over the next few weeks will be important to protecting the education of young people in colleges," he added.
From cuts crisis to calm
It was billed as "Judgment Day", the day of reckoning for every single one of us, the day we would all learn just how tough the next five years would be.
And by the time Chancellor George Osborne took his seat after giving a speech that lasted an hour and two minutes, the heads could almost literally be heard letting out a confused sigh of relief.
The medicine that we were expected to swallow did not end up tasting as bad as we had first feared, particularly for schools. Following the emergency Budget in June, the Department for Education was potentially looking at cuts of up to 25 per cent.
But this week's announcement of a 3.4 per cent reduction in revenue for schools means Michael Gove has emerged as one of the biggest winners from the spending review.
In arguing for, and securing, the schools settlement, the Education Secretary has shown his credentials as one of the big players around the Cabinet table.
By convincing Mr Osborne to raid the welfare budget, and securing funds to pay for the pound;2.5 billion pupil premium from outside the schools budget, Mr Gove has been able to protect schools spending, resulting in a 0.4 per cent real terms rise by 201415.
The amorphous term of schools spending includes everything from the one- to-one tuition grant, extended schools through to the specialist schools grant. But rather than handing the money over in separate pots, all of the cash will be rolled into one large one that will be, for next year at least, allocated to local authorities to give to schools. It will then be up to schools how they spend their money.
But while there are relative winners in the sector, there are also losers. School spending is protected for pupils up to 16, but after that spending per student will go down as the Government tries to extend the pupil participation age to 18 on the same amount of money.
This, coupled with cuts to the educational maintenance allowance, means sixth forms and further education colleges are likely to be hit hardest.
pound;4bn boost to schools pot
- Schools budget will increase from pound;35 billion to pound;39 billion over next four years.
- 0.4 per cent increase in real terms over same period.
- pound;2.5 billion pupil premium secured.
- 60 per cent reduction in capital expenditure.
- Education maintenance allowance scrapped.
- Ringfence around specialist schools removed.
- 16-19 per pupil cost reduced.