Osborne releases £125 million for schools that haven't been opened while existing schools have their budgets squeezed

Janet Downs's picture
Mr Gove announced here
“The Chancellor has released through the Budget £125 million of additional capital spending for England. That money is intended to ensure that we have a new generation of university technical colleges”.

So money is made available for schools that don’t exist at a time when existing schools are having their budgets reduced and when essential building work for many schools has been cancelled.

This another expensive initiative which sounds good but has not been properly thought through. Lord Baker wants one of these technical colleges in every city and town – a chain across the country. Has the Government not considered the effect on existing secondary schools when they lose some of their intake after Year 9? And what about the consequences to existing colleges of further education? Doesn't Mr Gove know that there are 14 year olds already receiving technical education in colleges of FE? FE could expand this provision at a fraction of the cost of providing new schools.

The Secretary of State is like the sorcerer’s apprentice – he’s waved his wand over the education system and is unleashing chaos. And like the sorcerer’s apprentice he won’t realize it until it’s too late.
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Sarah's picture
Wed, 30/03/2011 - 18:12

It is incredibly frustrating that Gove is finding millions of pounds for vanity projects like free schools and technical college while the funding for existing school buildings has been cut by 80% and the promised schools capital review which was supposed to be published in December still hasn't materialised giving local authorities and schools no idea what the arrangements are going to be after 2011. Primary schools which once got £30k pa to fix roofs, adapt teaching spaces, renew temporary classrooms, create nursery units etc are now getting around £6k which is barely enough to get the painters in. The fact that the DfE are refusing to respond to FoI requests on the capital costs of free schools is an absolute scandal. Local authorities have to declare what their capital investment plans are for the year ahead (and they are approved by democratically elected members) - why is the DfE allowed to be less transparent and with no accountability at all?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 13:49

£50 million is also set aside for free schools capital funding. This is explained below in an answer by the DfE Free Schools group to a Freedom of Information request:

“You requested:
“the amount of tax payers’ money that has been given to the sponsors of Free Schools.”
... On capital funding, up to £50 million has been set aside in 2010-11 to meet the capital needs of Free Schools. Beyond that, the provision for Free Schools forms part of the overall Spending Review settlement for schools. We will ensure that the Department provides sufficient start-up support on a case-by-case basis to fully establish the new schools."

"I have considered your request for information on the amount of tax payers’ money that has been given to sponsors of Free Schools. The Department holds the information you requested, but it is being withheld because it is exempt from disclosure under Section 43(2) of the Act. This is because disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person.”

So, £50 capital funding has been allowed. Free schools will also receive finance from the money allowed for all schools under the Spending Review. So again, money is taken from existing schools to fund schools which did not exist and would not have existed if it were not for government policy.

And then there’s the unknown amount of money given to free school sponsors – unknown because it is alleged to be commercially sensitive.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 14:19

That last point about commercial sensitivity is interesting. If free schools are to be seen as commercial enterprises, they may be obliged to go through a more rigorous procurement process under EU law. The judicial review in 2008, taken by a parent, of the procedures leading to the UCL Academy being set up in Camden attempted to test whether government could simply hand over a school to one particular sponsor under EU procurement law. The case was lost because the judge took the view that academy agreements were not commercial. If they are now being classed as commercial agreements, it may be the case that a EU wide competitive procurement process involving 'any willing provider' (as is being proposed for the NHS), should take place.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 14:44

I hadn't realised the significance of the commercial sensitivity. If academies are not commercial, then why the need to keep information secret under the guise of being "likely to prejudice the commercial interests of any person."

This might have implications for Lincolnshire where the council seem to be in the process of handing over a large number of schools to one organisation. And then there's the case of Langley Hall Primary Academy in Slough which will have a private nursery attached. Will the nursery be a completely separate legal entity? It has a different name - Wellingtons (according to the application form on the school's website). But how much, if any, DfE money is going towards this private facility? No doubt if we were to ask then an answer would be refused on grounds of "commercial sensitivity."

It's all very puzzling.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 31/03/2011 - 16:18

Whilst it is true that the DfE have stated they will spend £50m of capital on free schools (as this was the money cut from the Harnessing Technology fund) it cannot be the case that this is the entirety of capital funding for free schools since the acquisition and refurbishment costs of those already at OBC stage is certain to exceed this figure. What I am interested to know is where is the additional funding coming from, how much has been spent on the development of business cases to date and how much is being spent by PfS on their site finding tool, the New Schools Network (we know that's a £500k contract) and the 81 civil servants in the free schools unit at DfE. When you factor all of those additional costs in, this policy is costing a small fortune - all at the expense of funding for existing schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 01/04/2011 - 14:30

I think Sarah's point is worth repeating: the free schools experiment is at the expense of funding for existing schools.

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