By Tony Attwood
This extraordinary underspend comes from two different sources. The first, and the one most often mentioned, arises because the DfE funds some programmes which are “demand led” – such as the number of apprenticeships taken up. And besides, keeping a spot of loose change in one’s pocket is never a bad idea.
But tucked away in the details of the report there is a second level of underspend, and this one is a lot bigger at £5.19bn – or 8% of the budget. This amount is there because the DfE is in charge of student loans, and the size of this underspend shows what a chaotic market that has become. The DfE keeps the money safe, just in case.
However that money should not be lost, as long as the government doesn’t undertake some creative accounting in order to claw some of it back. So at the moment that £5.19bn has been carried forward into the current financial year to be used for other purposes.
Meanwhile we have an interesting development with teachers being given a pay rise of up to 3.5% although most teachers will get a below inflation rise of 1.5% to 2%. To cover this schools in England will get another £508m from the DfE.
For most teachers the rise will be about £16 a week less tax, which is not quite enough to take a daily lunch at Subway.
The fact that this payrise is funded by the cash rich DfE means school budgets won’t be squeezed to pay for the pay rise. However given that Meg Hillier, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, recently said the government had been “sluggish and incoherent” in its response to falling teacher and rising pupil numbers, the shortage of teachers will certainly continue.
Ms Hillier added, “It should have been clear to senior civil servants that growing demand for school places, combined with a drive for schools to make efficiency savings, would only build pressure in the system.
“Instead they seem to have watched on, scratching their heads, as more and more teachers quit the profession. Government must get a grip on teacher retention and we expect it to set out a targeted, measurable plan to support struggling schools as a matter of urgency.”
It didn’t, and it hasn’t. Which is a bit naughty really. Not doing one’s homework normally means lines or a detention.
Anyway, as a result of this mess around a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have left teaching. The DfE itself forecasts that secondary school student numbers will increase by over half a million between 2017 and 2025 and that pupil-teacher ratios will thus continue to rise.
The committee also pointed out that the government had spent £555m a year training new teachers, and just £36m on retaining and developing teachers. They refrained this time from mentioning the ludicrous campaign by one of the DfE’s agencies which stressed that after four years in teaching, teachers could leave school and get a managerial job in business.
So the shortage continues, but schools still get the money for the number of teachers they are designated as needing. And if it is not spent on salaries, it gets spent on something else….
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