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Spring budget - free schools, selective schools and post-16 education

19th June 2019

On Tuesday 7 March - the day before the Spring Budget - there were a number of stories in the media and newspapers about Government funding and plans for schools. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, wrote an article in the Telegraph setting out some plans and there has been briefing of other newspapers. This is what we know so far: the Government will allocate an additional £320 million in capital funding to support 140 new free schools with the aim that these will provide 70,000 new places 431 free schools have opened since 2010; 380 are in the pipeline. If all goes to plan, there will be around 950 open by 2020. the Government will also allocate £216 million in capital funding for refurbishment there will be a Schools White Paper setting out firm plans following the green paper consultation in the autumn. Government plans continue to involve an increase in the number of places in selective schools. Some of the new free schools may be selective schools. the Prime Minister has promised a rule change relating to school transport to ensure that pupils receiving free school meals or whose families receive working tax credit will be entitled to free transport for journeys to school of up to 15 miles There may be more information in the Spring Budget document published by HM Treasury or in Department for Education (DfE) documents that follow but the latest announcements focus on schools but miss important points about post-16 education. Schools are vitally important for the future of the country, but education does not just take place in schools. The Government's National Infrastructure Plan records plans to spend £23 billion on school buildings between 2016 and 2021. This week's announcements will increase this total towards £24 billion. School buildings are not being designed for technical education requirements and there is no comparable DfE investment in colleges outside the £0.17 billion allocated in January 2017 for new Institutes of Technology and the money allocated to local enterprise partnerships via the Local Growth Fund. £0.4 billion was earmarked for skills capital in 2015 but the amount spent is expected to be less than this because of unrealistic assumptions that the ability to colleges to raise new loans and because of decisions to prioritise transport. There is currently no dedicated capital funding at all for the 600,000 DfE funded 16 to 18-year-olds in further education colleges to match money paid to schools for refurbishment. Most new secondary schools have sixth forms (and cover an 11-18 age range). Over the last 10 years DfE has approved the opening of more than 200 sixth forms in the school sector (free schools, UTCs, new sixth forms in 11-16 schools) and providing capital funding in many cases to allow this to happen. Some of the new sixth forms are clearly very good but there is an oversupply of academic sixth form places in some areas and a low average class size. Recently published post-16 area review reports identify large number of small school sixth forms across the country. These act as a drag on the sustainability of local schools and colleges. On current funding levels, small state sixth forms are rarely able to offer a high quality curriculum. Research by the Nick Allen of Peter Symonds College for the Sixth Form College Association reports that average A Level class sizes in sixth form colleges are 17 and that "set size has very little impact on performance" The school transport rules that DfE plans to amend guarantee free travel to pupils of school age (up to age 16) but leave those of sixth form age dependent on local council policy. AoC's evidence to the Bus Services Bill reports 80% of councils have cut bus services in recent years and estimates that this results in perhaps 100 million more car journeys a year and denying access to those on low incomes. DfE is reported as estimating that 2,000 young people from low income families attending grammar schools will benefit from a change in the school transport rules. This benefit will stop at 16 both for them and for anyone else needing to travel longer distances for specialist courses.