Today’s news review looks at coverage relating to the cost of purchasing free school sites, coverage of a study that shows public sector workers like teachers get paid more than their private sector peers, and misleading coverage on school funding.
Free school sites
Ahead of a Public Accounts Committee hearing today, Labour MP Meg Hillier has accused the Government of overspending on free school sites. The story was covered on the Today Programme.
Hillier used a single example to make her point: the purchase of the Olive School in her Hackney constituency. She claimed the building, formerly Hackney police station, had a market value of £3m but the Government spent £7.6m on buying it. She went on to claim – without citing evidence – that the Government pays over the odds in about 60 per cent of cases. It is unclear what this claim is based on.
We do not pay in excess of what a site is worth or purchase expensive sites if better alternatives are available in an area where there is demand for school places. But we are operating in a competitive market and if there is limited availability in an area in high need of school places, and 93 per cent of free schools open in areas of high need, then prices will rise in the same way house prices rise in desirable areas. This obviously becomes more acute where there are multiple bidders, as happened with the Olive School.
It is important to note that it costs, on average, 29 per cent less to build a free school than it cost to build a school under the old Building Schools for The Future Programme that the Government ended as it was not providing value for money.
Later today, the Department’s Permanent Secretary, Jonathan Slater, will discuss this issue further with the Public Accounts Committee.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
Free schools are playing a vital role in creating more good school places. They are popular with parents, ensuring thousands more families have the choice of a good local school.
We do not pay in excess of what a site is worth or purchase expensive sites if there are better value for money alternatives in the area. The construction costs of a newly built free school are 29% lower than schools built under the previous school building programme.
However, we want to keep improving which is why we are due to launch a government owned property company, LocatED. Led by property experts it will be responsible to securing sites more quickly and providing good value for the taxpayer.
IFS on public sector pay
The Telegraph has reported on a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that shows public sector workers like teachers are still being paid more than their private sector counterparts.
The study by the IFS says this is the case despite nearly a decade of public sector pay restraint and austerity. The study also shows that the standard of graduates entering the professions like teaching and health care is as high as ever.
Among those who left university in 2014-15, the average A-Level results of those who went into teaching was equivalent to three A-levels and an AS level at grade B.
New trainee teachers with a degree in physics, maths, computing and modern foreign languages have average A-Level results well above the average for both teachers and graduates as a whole, said the report.
The Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror both reported on misleading claims that some schools could be denied extra money for the next ten years. This is completely untrue and based on figures published by the NUT that fail to take into account a range of factors including that the funding for schools will rise in line with pupil numbers.
The piece also ignores that school funding is at its highest level on record and that in real terms per pupil funding has almost doubled since 1997 according to the IFS.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
The union’s figures are fundamentally misleading. They ignore the fact that schools funding is driven by pupil numbers and as pupil numbers rise, the amount of money schools receive will also increase. The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40bn in 2016-17 – and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise, over the next two years to £42 billion by 2019-20. But the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. We are going to end the historic post code lottery in school funding and under the proposed national schools funding formula, more than half of England’s schools will receive a cash boost.
Significant protections have also been built into the formula so that no school will face a reduction of more than more than 1.5% per pupil per year or 3% per pupil overall. But we recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways, including improving the way they buy goods and services, so they get the best possible value.
We are consulting on the factors that will make up the formula and we know that it is important that we get this right so that every pound of the investment we make in education has the greatest impact. The consultation will run until 22 March 2017, and we are keen to hear from as many schools, governors, local authorities and parents as possible.
We are welcoming views on the second part of our National Funding Formula consultation here.