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Budget 2024: £105m for 15 special schools, but nothing else

The government will spend £105 million opening 15 new special free schools, the chancellor announced at the budget, which included no other investment for the sector.

Jeremy Hunt’s budget was heavy on tax cuts but light on public spending, with no further revenue funding to help schools deal with rising pressures.

He also announced a “public sector productivity plan” aimed at making public services including education more efficient, but did not detail how this would affect schools.

Julie McCulloch

There was also no mention of the National Tutoring Programme, suggesting funding for subsidised tuition will come to an end this summer as planned.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the chancellor “spent more time name-checking film stars than he did on education”.

“A building programme for special schools is welcome but does not address the wider crisis in special educational needs funding.”

It comes after the Department for Education’s own analysis predicted schools only have headroom of 1.2 per cent in their budgets for next year.

Here’s what you need to know …

1. 15 new special schools (but not for years)

In budget documents, the Treasury said it was “committing an initial £105 million towards a wave of 15 new special free schools to create over 2,000 additional places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) across England”.

“This will help more children receive a world-class education and builds on the significant levels of capital funding for SEND invested at the 2021 Spending Review.”

Locations will be announced by May this year. The Treasury said the DfE will then run a competition to find trusts to run the schools, and “once trusts have been appointed, we expect to open schools in three to four years”.

However, this likely will not cover the shortage of SEND places in many areas, and as Schools Week has revealed – delivery of the schools is sluggish, with many promised years ago still not open.

The government has also confirmed the location of 20 alternative provision free schools, which were originally announced as part of a £2.6 billion capital investment at the 2021 spending review.

2. More for household support and violence reduction

Hunt announced that the household support fund – which has been used by some councils to provide school uniform support or holiday meals – will be extended from April to September at a cost of £500 million.

The government will also spend £75 million over three years from 2025 to expand the violence reduction unit model across England and Wales.

These units enable health boards, schools and police leaders to coordinate joint strategies to tackle violence among young people.

3. Looks like ‘curtain has crashed down’ on tutor scheme

At present, subsidised tutoring is due to come to an end this summer, with schools expected to use pupil premium funding to fund the provision if they want to keep it going.

Proponents of the catch-up scheme had hoped the National Tutoring Programme would be extended. But there was no mention in the budget speech or documents about tutoring.

Nick Brook, who chair’s the Department for Education’s tutoring advisory group, said the failure to fund it at the budget has “brought the curtain crashing down on the National Tutoring Programme, the only response of merit, from their woeful post-covid education recovery plan”.

“Schools will undoubtedly do their upmost to maintain levels of support for their most disadvantaged pupils. But with dwindling resources, it is abundantly clear that this decision will result in the volume of tutoring plummeting.”

There was also no mention of funding for national professional qualifications, which comes to an end at the end of this academic year.

4. Mysterious ‘productivity plan’

Hunt unveiled proposals for a “public sector productivity plan”, starting with the NHS and also including education, but there are few details.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Budget documents state that “relevant departments will develop detailed productivity plans, building on their work to date and the funding announced at spring budget”.

These plans “will be developed over the coming months ahead of the next spending review”, which will take place after the election.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said leaders would 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”.

“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.”

The government has also published a document outlining existing efforts to save money, such as the school resource management programme, teacher vacancies website and guidance on good estate management for schools. None of this is new, however.

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