Budget 2024: Hunt offers slim pickings for schools

£105 million to open 15 new special free schools was the main education funding announcement of chancellor of the exchequer Jeremy Hunt’s budget last week, as questions remained over the future of the National Tutoring Programme.

The government said the money would create a ‘wave of 15 new special free schools to create over 2000 additional places for children with special educational needs and disabilities across England’, with the locations to be announced by May this year. A competitive process will be run by the DfE to find trusts to run the schools, and once these are in place they will open three to four years later. Mr Hunt said the new schools would ‘create additional high-quality places and increase choice for parents’.

Elsewhere there were few substantial announcements relating to schools. Mr Hunt did announce that the Household Support Fund, which is used by some councils to provide holiday meals and clubs for disadvantaged families, would be extended by six months to September this year, at a cost of £500 million. However there was no mention of any extension to the National Tutoring Programme or the 16-19 Tutoring Fund, meaning it is likely they will come to an end this summer as originally planned. There was a disappointed reaction from proponents of tutoring, with Nick Brook, chair of the DfE’s strategic tutoring advisory group commenting ‘With the attainment gap standing at a 10-year high, it beggars belief that the government thinks now is the right time to withdraw funding for tutoring, just as evaluations were proving its worth.’ For the early years sector, there was confirmation that the government would provide an extra £500 million over two years to support the sector to deliver the expanded childcare offer. The Early Years Alliance said this was ‘a positive first step’, but that more much support, including a long term workforce and funding strategy, was needed.

The chancellor also mentioned a ‘public sector productivity plan’ in his speech, which would initially focus on boosting efficiency in the NHS but would also cover the education sector in due course. Details were limited, with treasury documents stating that ‘relevant departments will develop detailed productivity plans, building on their work to date and the funding announced at spring budget’. Budget documents also show that the government has reduced the estimated capital spend for the education sector this academic year from 7 billion to 6.3 billion. £250 million of this reduction is accounted for as it was recently moved from the capital budget to help cover this year’s pay rise for teachers, however it is not immediately clear why a further £450 million has now been removed. The treasury documents state that ‘overall ambition on capital investment remains unchanged in the long-term, with no capital programme being cut as a result of the teacher pay deal’.

Responding to the budget Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Last year, the Prime Minister promised that the UK “would rival the best education systems in the world” but yet again, children and schools have been largely ignored in the budget. Our children deserve better - today’s spending announcements mean that too many will continue to be taught in decrepit classrooms for the foreseeable future. School leaders will be concerned to hear the chancellor talking about the need for greater efficiencies in education, and many will be left wondering where they will be found when budgets have already been cut to the bone. While the investment in new special schools is welcome, it does not begin to address the huge shortages of specialist staff, capacity and funding for pupils with SEND, either in schools or the wider social care and health services which are already under so much strain.’


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