Teachers' leaders yesterday accused the Government of squandering millions of pounds on private education consultants at a time when schools are facing job losses and cutbacks.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has written to Education Secretary Michael Gove demanding to know why he has made payments totalling £21m to private consultants in the past year.
In addition, she said that teachers were "understandably alarmed" that almost 100 civil servants had been seconded to work full-time on the Government's flagship "free schools" project when support to existing state schools was being reduced.
An analysis of Department for Education spending by NUT researchers shows five firms with links to free school projects have received £21m worth of government funding in the past year.
In addition, three other firms had received a further £5m – including £4.5m paid out by Partnership for Schools, a quango given responsibility for overseeing the building of free schools, to a private legal firm, Dickenson Dees.
Ms Blower said at her union's annual conference in Harrogate: "Why at a time when school budgets are being squeezed has the DfE made £21m payments to private consultants? Why, at a time when the DfE is cutting staff, are almost 100 DfE employed on free school policy – equivalent to 4 per cent of all junior posts in the DfE and costing the taxpayer £4m? Having sold the policy of free schools to the general public as one of small groups of enthusiastic members of the community running schools, the Government has changed it to one of handing schools over to unaccountable private companies."
A spokesman for the DfE said: "Spend on consultants has been slashed by the Coalition Government. In 2009-10 it was over £74m but when final figures for the last financial year are published spend is expected to be significantly reduced. We're sure Christine Blower will be pleased with this huge reduction."