Justine Greening announced today that the total schools budget will increase by £1.3 billion over the next two years, meaning per pupil funding will be protected in real terms, not just cash terms.
The money to pay for this will come from efficiencies and savings from across the Department for Education, rather than increased borrowing, and that means finding some savings from within the free schools capital budget. However, the good news is that there will be no reduction in the actual number of free schools already planned for.
In addition to those approved to open already, a further 140 free schools will be approved, the same number that was announced earlier this year when more capital funding was allocated to free schools in the Spring Budget. Thirty of these will be approved via the presumption route, with local authorities helping to set them up – and New Schools Network looks forward to working with provider groups who want to enter presumption competitions – but those 30 will still be free schools.
The fact that there will be no cut in the number of free schools planned for is great news for parents and children. Compared to the national picture, free schools are more likely to be rated Outstanding by Ofsted, more popular with parents and get better results. They also cost a third less to set up than schools built under the last administration’s Building Schools for the Future programme, making them a cost effective way to meet the need for new places.
Of those free schools that have opened or been approved to open since 2013, more than 80 per cent have been in areas where there is a demographic need for new places and they are three times more likely to be in England’s most deprived areas than the least deprived.
I welcome this announcement. Justine Greening has found a way to protect per pupil funding in real terms and introduce the National Funding Formula without cutting the planned number of new free schools.