Dilapidated classrooms get just £216m while unnecessary free schools rake in the cash
LABOUR has torn into Tory plans in today’s Budget to splurge £320 million pounds on 140 new “vanity project” free schools — many likely to be selective grammars — alongside just £216m to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner slammed the Tories’ spending when schools face £3 billion in cuts.
Yesterday she said: “Over half a million children are stuck in oversized classes because this government has failed to ensure there are enough school places.
“Free schools are still being opened in areas where they are not needed and where there is no demand for them. This is now throwing more good money after bad.
“It will do nothing to address the shortage of available school places.
“The Tories are breaking their manifesto promise to protect per-pupil spending and this Budget was a missed opportunity for them to right this wrong.
“Schools are still facing £3bn cuts and children all across the country are paying the price for Tory failure.”
The money for 140 new schools in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring Budget will create more than 70,000 new places as part of a wider plan to open 500 free schools — state funded but run independently of local authorities — by 2020.
There are currently 431 free schools, most run by parent or faith groups. The schools can choose to offer selective education like grammar schools and the move is seen as helping the Tories to fulfil Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge last autumn to allow grammar schools to expand and new ones to open.
Opponents of selective schools have argued that an increase in their number will lead to more segregation of children from the age of 11 and a two-tier education system.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the government was “barking up the wrong tree completely” on education.
He told BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “This issue is of school funding and school places.
“The issue isn’t going around to develop selective education, the issue is supporting the schools that we’ve got and supporting the principle of local community schools rather than selection.
“There is no great public support for selection, because they realise if you have selection for one group of people, somebody else doesn’t get selected.”
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that the government is pouring billions into new free schools in England while existing state schools are crumbling due to lack of repairs.
The spending watchdog said £6.7bn was needed just to bring existing school buildings up to a satisfactory standard, with a further £7.1bn required to put them in good condition.
The NAO added that the Department for Education would face an estimated bill of £2.5bn by 2022 simply to purchase the land needed to build 500 new free schools.
Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said state school teachers and heads will be “dismayed” at the government’s plans.