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Department for Education miscalculation ‘could have inflated schools budget by £370m’ | UK News

An inquiry has been ordered by the government after the Department for Education (DfE) miscalculated its funding plans for the next academic year.

Susan Acland-Hood, who as permanent secretary is the DfE’s top official, has apologised for the error in a letter to the Parliamentary Education Select Committee.

She wrote that the number of pupils had been underestimated, with a planned 2.7% increase per pupil for 2024/25 subsequently revised to 1.9%.

“We will therefore be issuing new NFF (National Funding Formula) allocations to correct that error while continuing to deliver, in full, the £59.6bn Core Schools Budget that has been promised,” the letter states.

“I apologise for this error. The secretary of state has asked me to conduct a formal review of the quality assurance process surrounding the calculation of the NFF, with independent scrutiny.

“Improvements have already been identified to ensure similar mistakes are not repeated in the future.”

The NFF is the method the government uses to decide how much money should be given to English state schools each year.

According to the BBC, the originally planned increase would have inflated the overall schools budget by £370m.

Although the money for 2024/25 has not yet been paid out, Ms Acland-Hood said DfE officials “recognise that the correction of this error will be difficult for local authorities and frustrating for some school leaders”.

She added: “We will work closely with school stakeholders, including unions, to communicate this change and support schools and local authorities.”

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PM wants to scrap A-levels – three key takeaways from Sunak’s speech

Labour and unions criticise Tories for ‘shocking’ error

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “More Tory chaos, more uncertainty for schools and families struggling under the weight of thirteen years of cuts.

“Only Labour will drive the high and rising standards our children deserve.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Today’s announcement that the DfE has incorrectly calculated the national funding formula for 2024-25 speaks volumes about the chaos at the heart of government.

“School leaders will be rightly angry that basic accounting errors may force them to rethink already tight budgets as a result of the erroneous figures they were provided.

“Many may now have to revisit crucial decisions around staffing or support for pupils as budgets are reduced.

“Rushed announcements about half-baked policy initiatives, such as mobile phone bans or overhauling 16-18 education without any consultation with the sector, are worrying enough, but how can school leaders have confidence in headline grabbing policy developments if they can’t even trust their budget allocations.”

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Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, called the error “shocking”.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, late on Friday, he said: “On Wednesday, (Rishi) Sunak said he would prioritise education funding.

“Now I’ve just been called into a last-minute DfE meeting (5.30pm Friday), only to be informed that unplanned cuts are coming!”

He added: “We already have record class sizes and can’t recruit or retain teachers.

“Sunak must commit to stop school cuts.”

Education secretary under fire for opening ‘Pandora’s box’ on concrete crisis | Politics News

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has come under fire from colleagues for her “unilateral” decision to determine which school buildings need to close as part of the concrete crisis, Sky News has learned.

Ministers elsewhere in Whitehall fear she has opened a “Pandora’s box” by setting a more cautious than necessary standard that could affect a huge array of public buildings, including housing stock, local authority buildings and the military estate.

The education secretary has made clear she took the most cautious of the options presented by officials over which buildings to shut last week.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan arriving in Downing Street, London, for a Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday June 13, 2023.

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Sky News understands that the decision was signed off by the education team in Number 10 with the PM’s knowledge.

However there was no cabinet office meeting and no ministerial follow-up for days after the issue emerged.

The Department for Education “belatedly” shared the technical advice on why they shut school with others in Whitehall – some of whom disagree it shows a need to shut schools

Ministers are worried they could now face massive disruption and spiralling costs if other public buildings are now held to the same precedent set in the Department for Education.

“This is suboptimal,” said a senior Whitehall figure. “She has made a unilateral decision. It’s not been resolved, and it’s a bit of a mess.”

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Gillian Keegan denies complacency

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Sources close to the education secretary say the decision was never intended to act as a precedent since the school estate is unique. “We are being over-cautious,” said an education source.

There are tens of thousands of school buildings in disparate parts of the country and often do not have easy access to estate managers, monitors or experts who can monitor the state of buildings, and the buildings themselves are unusually crowded.

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However, there is concern elsewhere that the decision by Ms Keegan may nevertheless appear like a precedent, and if other public buildings are not held to the same standard they will have to fix them or face legal risk and political pressure.

Responsibility for the issue will now fall to the Government Property Agency, but ministers are already concerned about the implications for budgets.

“There is a big fear this is going to spiral,” said a Tory source.

Education secretary in four-letter rant over lack of thanks for doing a ‘f***ing good job’ on concrete crisis | Politics News

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was caught on camera complaining about not being thanked for doing a “f***ing good job” over the unsafe concrete crisis.

After an interview with ITV News in Westminster, the cabinet minister criticised others for being “sat on their arses” and claimed the government had gone “over and above” in addressing concerns relating to reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC).

She said: “Does anyone ever say ‘You know you’ve done a f***ing good job because everyone else has sat on their arses and done nothing.

“No signs of that, no?”

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Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s shadow schools minister, said her comments were a “staggering admission that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have done nothing to address a problem that they have known about for years”.

“The education secretary has displayed staggering arrogance for saying she deserves a pat on the back for the chaos that is gripping our schools on their watch,” he said.

“Families, school leaders and school staff deserve an immediate apology for these appalling comments.”

Ms Keegan is due to be interviewed on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge on Sky News tonight at 7:30pm.

A Number 10 source said her comments were “wrong” but the prime minister “has full confidence in his education secretary”.

Thousands of pupils face disruption at the start of term this week following a last-minute order to fully or partially close 104 schools because of concerns about RAAC.

Pupils face being taught in temporary classrooms, on different sites or even forced into pandemic-style remote lessons.

Mr Sunak has acknowledged hundreds more schools in England could be caught up in the crisis as he faced accusations he failed to fund a programme to replace ageing classrooms while chancellor.

The prime minister said that 95% of England’s schools were unaffected, leaving open the possibility that more than a thousand could still be impacted by concerns about RAAC.

Watch Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge from 7pm Monday to Thursday on Sky channel 501, Virgin channel 602, Freeview channel 233, on the Sky News website and app or on YouTube.

Mr Sunak said: “New information came to light relatively recently and it’s important that once it had, that the government acted on it as swiftly as possible.

“Of course I know the timing is frustrating, but I want to give people a sense of the scale of what we are grappling with here: there are around 22,000 schools in England and the important thing to know is that we expect that 95% of those schools won’t be impacted by this.”

But critics have accused the Tories of a “shambolic” handling of the situation, saying concerns about the material have been well known for years.

RAAC is essentially a lighter-weight form of concrete, used to build roofs, schools, colleges and other buildings from the 1950s until the mid-1990s.

Experts have long-warned the material has now reached the end of its shelf life and is liable to collapse.

Earlier Jonathan Slater, who was secretary at the Department for Education (DfE) from May 2016 to August 2020, claimed the Treasury had failed to fully fund school rebuilding schemes – including during Mr Sunak’s time at the helm.

He said up to 400 schools a year need to be replaced, but the DfE only got funding for 100, despite the government knowing there was a “critical risk to life”.

Mr Sunak dismissed that criticism as “completely and utterly wrong”.

But Labour insisted he “bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle” – saying funding for rebuilding schools has been slashed over the years.

Analysis published by the party found that spending on school rebuilding between 2019 and 2020 was at £765m, but this fell to £560m the following year.

Spending dropped again to £416m in 2021 to 2022, the party said.

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Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “The defining image of 13 years of the Conservative-run education system will be children sat under steel girders to stop the roof falling in.

“Rishi Sunak bears huge culpability for his role in this debacle: he doubled down on Michael Gove’s decision to axe Labour’s schools rebuilding programme and now the chickens have come home to roost – with yet more disruption to children’s education.”

Gavin Williamson was right to resign, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan says – with Rishi Sunak’s judgement likely to be probed at PMQs | Politics News

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said Sir Gavin Williamson was right to resign from the cabinet over bullying claims.

Sir Gavin’s departure on Tuesday evening came shortly after an ex-civil servant – who claimed the MP told them to “slit your throat” – made a formal complaint.

A Number 10 source told Sky News it was Sir Gavin’s decision to resign following further allegations being laid at his door.

He is understood to have spoken to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the early evening to offer his resignation.

Sunak to face grilling over Williamson appointment – Politics latest

In his resignation letter, the former cabinet minister vowed to clear his name of wrongdoing – and said he “refutes the characterisation of these claims”.

“I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing,” Sir Gavin wrote to Mr Sunak.

Sir Gavin – who had already been sacked by Theresa May and Boris Johnson – has also been accused of sending expletive-laden messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton where he complained about being refused an invitation to the Queen’s funeral.

He was also the subject of claims he bullied a former official at the Ministry of Defence and engaged in “unethical and immoral” behaviour while he was chief whip.

Probed on whether Sir Gavin was right to resign, Ms Keegan told Sky News: “Yes, I think it is.

“He said it was a distraction and it is a distraction because we’ve got really sort of serious things that we need to navigate – navigating these economic times is going to be quite tricky.”

She added: “I think Gavin did the right thing by resigning.”

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Williamson vows to clear his name

Discussing the allegations Sir Gavin is facing, Ms Keegan noted that “it is inappropriate to use anybody’s mental health against them”.

She added that Sir Gavin had “apologised” for the “unacceptable” messages sent to a colleague.

Late last night, Sir Gavin said he would not be taking severance pay, tweeting: “This is taxpayers’ money and it should go instead toward the government’s priorities like reducing the NHS’s waiting lists.”

Mr Sunak’s will face PMQs this afternoon, hours after his ally Sir Gavin quit over the bullying claims.

Accepting the resignation “with great sadness”, Mr Sunak told Sir Gavin: “I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty.”

Read more:
Gavin Williamson quits after formal complaint over ‘slit your throat’ remark
Sunak believes Williamson’s account of events on the allegations he faces

The prime minister’s judgement is being questioned after it emerged that he appointed Sir Gavin to a senior role despite being aware of an investigation related to his behaviour.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said yesterday’s events show “yet another Tory government has descended into chaos”.

“This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgement and weak leadership. It is clear that he is trapped by the grubby backroom deals he made to dodge a vote, and is incapable of putting country before party,” she said.

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New Williamson bullying complaint

While Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This should be the third and final time Gavin Williamson is forced out of the cabinet.”

She continued: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Williamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him. His promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters.”

Senior Tory MPs have alleged to Sky News that Sir Gavin “has been bullying for most of his career” and that his behaviour has “always been well known”.

One senior Tory MP, who was in cabinet with Sir Gavin, told Sky News: “He’s a bully no two ways about it, it’s well known, it’s always been well known.

“His only talent is bullying. It was a mistake for Rishi to give him a job. More people will be happy if he goes than if he stays.”

The senior MP also claimed Sir Gavin, who was chief whip under Mrs May “modelled his whipping style” on US drama House of Cards.

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Williamson language is ‘appalling’

Another senior Tory MP was even more disparaging of Sir Gavin, calling him “an absolute little sh***” who “should never have been allowed in government”.

The MP called his appointment to Mr Sunak’s cabinet “beyond the pale” adding: “I’d be surprised if the Cabinet Office didn’t warn the PM there would be a dim view taken if he was given a job.

“I have no idea on earth why anyone would employ him, he’s been bullying for most of his career.

“The spider in the box, the idea he’s got something over somebody… it astonished us all when he got into cabinet.”

The MP went on: “Thoroughly incompetent, thoroughly pathetic. He’s a nasty piece of work, who adds no value whatsoever. Rishi thinks he owes him, he doesn’t. If Gavin Williamson is the answer I don’t know what the hell the question is.”

Sky News has approached Sir Gavin for comment.

Sir Gavin’s third stint in the cabinet was by far his shortest, having made his return to the government only two weeks ago, when Mr Sunak appointed him as a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office.