School funding cuts are threatening to undermine the quality of education in England’s classrooms, putting children’s academic progress at risk as head teachers struggle to find savings, finds a highly critical report.
MPs on the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) say schools in England are facing the most significant financial pressure since the mid-1990s, with school leaders having to find £3bn in savings by 2020.
Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the PAC, accused the government of collective delusion about the scope for further efficiency savings and warned: “Pupils’ futures are at risk if the DfE fails to act on the warnings in our report.”
The scathing report accuses the Department for Education of failing to understand the plight of England’s schools, which have already had to cut staff, maintenance costs, IT investment and pastoral services to meet rising costs.
The report casts doubt on claims saying schools can save £1.3bn by better procurement and £1.7bn by using staff more efficiently, and urges officials to go out and talk to school leaders rather than rely on desk-based statistical analysis of school spending.
The government has been under sustained pressure over school finances as concern has grown among parents as well as head teachers. Funding per pupil is projected to fall by 8% in real terms by 2020 as schools face increased employer costs, cuts to the education services grant, plus the introduction of the apprenticeship levy from next month.
Wednesday’s report accuses the department of failing to learn lessons from the NHS where, it says, unrealistic efficiency targets have damaged the finances of NHS trusts as they try to meet growing demand at the same time as reducing costs. “Government must not allow this to happen in schools,” said Hiller. “There are troubling similarities in its approach – similarities the DfE is unwilling to recognise. Grand plans drawn up in Whitehall are dangerous if they are…