Education

16.03.17

Cuts to education grants could leave five million children at risk, says LGA

Councils could be at risk of failing to fulfil their duties of protecting school children under new rules and funding arrangements that will see £600m worth of grants cut from budgets, local authorities have warned today.

Local councils have a statutory obligation to fulfil to schools, including undertaking staff checks, managing asbestos in schools, mental health support, fire safety and maintaining school buildings and fields.

But due a reduction to central government’s education services grant, which provides funding for these services, councils may be “forced to decide” which services they can afford to maintain – and have now warned that this may leave five million children at risk, according to the LGA.

The news comes after councils urged the government to devolve more educational powers to councils in a bid to fix the UK’s broken school estate, after chancellor Philip Hammond only provided £216m for school maintenance in his Spring Budget – which is only a small part of the reported £6.7bn required to fully fix and maintain the nation’s schools by 2021.

The reduction in the grant, which will come into effect from September, has left councils with their “hands tied”, according to the LGA’s Children and Young People Board chair Cllr Richard Watts.

“They are legally obliged to provide these services but will have no money to do so unless the school is prepared to pay for it from its own pocket,” Cllr Watts appealed to the government.

He also emphasised that councils were committed to ensuring all children get access to high-quality education and providing pupils with a “safe and healthy environment” to learn in.

However, Cllr Watts warned, “changes to regulation and school funding mean that councils could fail to meet their legal duties which protect children and teachers whilst at school”.

The LGA board chair also argued that cuts to the grant would put further pressure on already stretched budgets, as services that were previously provided to schools by councils will become an “extra burden” for authorities struggling to make ends meet.

“If councils are to continue to provide these vital services the £600m proposed cut to the education services grant needs to be reversed,” he concluded.

When asked for comment, a Department of Education spokesperson said: "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 £42bn by 2019-20‎.

“As announced at the Spending Review, we will be removing the Education Services Grant general funding rate from 2017-18.

"We recognise that local authorities will need support with this change, which is why we have introduced a new transitional grant worth £125m in 2017-18.

"We have also amended regulations so that local authorities can use other sources of funding to pay for education services once the ESG is removed from September 2017.

"This will allow local authorities to retain some of their maintained schools’ Dedicated Schools Grant so that they can continue to deliver the statutory duties that they carry out on behalf of maintained schools.”

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