Schools: Good for the disadvantaged – bad for the rest

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Indy Politics

Schools in leafy suburbs will be the most likely to face cuts in their spending.

Overall, schools have been spared the kind of reductions imposed upon most other public services – even seeing a modest increase in their budgets from £35bn to £39bn over the next four years.

However, some will undoubtedly have to make cuts, as the increase includes £7bn allocated to the Liberal Democrat idea of the "pupil premium" – giving schools extra cash for every disadvantaged young person they accept.

Those with the fewest pupils in this bracket are likely to see their budgets reduced. Andy Burnham, the shadow education secretary, warned they could face "significant" cuts, putting thousands of teachers' jobs in peril.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, acknowledged that schools would be better off than other public services, but added that the size of the funding increase meant they "will need to make tough choices on spending".

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "The Government may talk about protecting schools, but schools are not protected, and nor are local authorities. The cuts announced in the Government's spending review are a retrograde step and will have a devastating impact on vital public services."

Yesterday's announcement also saw the end of education maintenance allowances of up to £30 a week, which were intended to help 16 to 19-year-olds stay on at school or college. The means-tested grant will be replaced by a hardship fund which schools and colleges can allocate to the most needy pupils.

According to the Department for Education, about 90 per cent of those in receipt of the current allowance (which costs £500m a year) would have stayed on at school anyway. However, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "We are appalled to learn that education maintenance allowances are at risk... The simple message here seems to be: 'Don't be poor'."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, called the decision "reckless", saying it was a "lifeline for many young people to access education". She added that trying to work out the implications of the review was "like knitting fog".

Ministers are also scrapping a series of individual grants given to schools, such as those which specialise in a particular subject or offer extended supervision in the evening. Instead, they will be given the money in their overall budgets to spend as they wish.

Administration costs will bear the brunt of the cuts, being slashed by 33 per cent by 2014/5. This means that one in three civil service jobs are set to disappear.

Capital spending on school repairs and new buildings is also being cut by 60 per cent, but officials point out that, at £15.8bn over the four-year period, it will still be more than was spent on schools in the early years of the Labour government.

A freeze on public sector pay will also save £1.1bn over four years, during which the overall budget will reduce from £58.4bn to £57.2bn.

However, free childcare of up to 15 hours a week for three and four-year-olds is being protected and extended to disadvantaged two-year-olds.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "There will be many savings across the department, but the Coalition Government is committed to improving education for all."