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Post-election spending review leaves schools in the dark

Schools face having to submit their three-year budget forecasts this summer without knowing what their funding level will be from next March.

It comes after the government confirmed its next spending review will take place after the general election.

This week’s budget did not include any extra day-to-day funding for schools for the 2024-25 financial year, leaving schools with an average headroom of just 1.2 per cent. Current inflation is four per cent.

The last spending review, in 2021, set out proposed school spending for each financial year up until the end of March 2025.

In the budget, the Treasury said that beyond 2024-25, only “planned departmental day-to-day-spending will grow at one per cent a year on average in real terms”.

However, it is not clear what this would translate to at school budget level.

Julia Harnden

Documents also confirmed that the next spending review won’t be held until after the next general election, which is expected in the autumn.

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at leadership union ASCL, said the lack of information beyond next March was “already a problem” for schools’ financial planning.

Schools “have to submit three-year budget forecasts this summer, and the current spending period ends [in] March 2025”.

Harnden said there would “have to be some sort of fiscal statement to set out settlements for April 2025 to March 2026, but this could be a holding one-year settlement and could be done in the autumn pre-election”.

“And then a multi-year spending review could follow post-election.”

‘Schools need three-year settlements’

ASCL has “long asked for a rolling three-year settlement for schools and colleges to mitigate some of the planning risks associated with such defined spending review periods”.

The only funding announcement for schools in Jeremy Hunt’s budget was £105 million in capital funding to open 15 new special schools, but not for several years.

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, were also confirmed.

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.

But ministers revised down their estimated spend on capital projects this academic year by £700 million.

Schools Week revealed last week how £250 million from capital budgets had been moved to cover part of this year’s teacher pay rise. The Treasury would not say where the remaining £450 million underspend would go.

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