More free schools pledged amid budget squeeze

Theresa May with a pupilImage copyright
Victoria Jones

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Theresa May says she wants more good school places

The chancellor has pledged half a billion pounds to build new schools and revamp others, while heads in England grapple with a daily funding crisis.

Philip Hammond will confirm, in this week’s Budget statement, a one-off £320m for 140 new free schools on top of the 500 already pledged by 2020.

He will also pledge £216m to rebuild and refurbish existing schools with modern facilities.

But this cash cannot be used to address the £3bn spending shortfall in schools.

The clamour over budgetary pressures has been building recently, with groups of heads lobbying MPs and the education secretary for assistance.

Some schools have even warned parents they will be asking for donations.

‘More choice’

Head teachers have been complaining of an unfunded pay rise, extra national insurance payments and a freeze in the funding level per pupil.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that schools faced a 6.5% drop in spending per pupil between 2015-16 and 2019-20 because of rising costs.

However, ministers insist schools funding is at its highest level on record.

Mr Hammond said: “We are not starting from scratch; we have protected the core schools budget, which stands at over £40bn this year, and these announcements take the next steps in giving parents greater choice in finding a good school for their child, whatever their background.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “For too many children, a good school place remains out of reach, with their options determined by where they live or how much money their parents have.

“Over the last six years, we have overseen a revolution in our schools system and we have raised standards and opportunity, but there is much more to do.”


She promised to set out the next stage of the government’s schools programme in the coming months.

The £320m investment is earmarked for the free school programme but could also be used to fund new grammar schools.

All new schools have to be free schools.

Mr Hammond will also pledge to ensure children from very poor backgrounds are given an entitlement to have travel to selective schools paid for.

General secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Dr Mary Bousted said teachers and heads in the thousands of existing state schools, facing real-terms cuts, would be dismayed to see the chancellor throwing more money at free schools and grammars.

“These spending pledges are totally insufficient to tackle the schools funding crisis the government is inflicting on schools by forcing them to make over £3bn of savings by 2020,” she said.

“Not only will the funding be misdirected, but the National Audit Office found that it costs far more to create a place in a free school than it does in a mainstream school.”

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