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Reducing staffing, narrowing curricula and reducing SEND support to maintain schools’ finances risks “damage to children’s education”

4 March 2022

The Public Accounts Committee today warns that the DfE’s reliance on national figures that indicate schools are in reasonable financial health is masking “significant variation and challenges for individual schools”.

The Committee has significant concerns on more-deprived schools, measured by proportion of children eligible for free school meals, “faring worse than less-deprived schools under the Department’s new funding system” - while some academy trusts are building up large reserves, meaning a significant amount of funding is not being spent on educating pupils currently in school.

Some of the steps that schools have taken to maintain their finances have adversely affected children’s education: cutting staff, dropping subjects from the curriculum and further reducing the support system for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) which “continues to fail many children and remains financially unsustainable”.

The Department for Education also “has little assurance” that extra £4.7 billion committed for school funding in the 2021 Spending Review “will be enough to cover cost pressures including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“DfE’s airy assurances about the healthy books of academies in particular mask some cruel divides between the haves and have nots - unacceptable differences in life chances for our children and young people from the get-go, through no fault of their own.

But we see the Department’s apparent disregard for the inequalities exposed and exacerbated in the pandemic in the catchup provision debacle, and in all the children and their families still struggling, years after the promised review, with the poor provision for special educational needs and disabilities.

Rather than the Department blithely looking for laurels to rest on it must grasp that it’s not ok for any group of our children to be abandoned in the system that it oversees.”

Further information

Image: PA