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Education Funding Gap in England

27th April 2017

Hardly a week goes by without political parties trying to score points over one another in their attempts to convince us that their plans will solve the education funding gap in England. Successive UK Governments have been the largest investors across the public sector, but they still get things badly wrong. A report this March by the Education Policy Institute suggests that all state schools in England will face a funding gap by 2020.

Why do we find ourselves in this situation? Is it a lack of absolute commitment and leadership or simply a lack of appreciation of the situation at ground level? The BBC’s reports over the last few weeks emphasise the often contradictory and confusing messages we get on education policy versus the reality on the ground:

  • • Scrapped Free Schools waste £140m
  • • School building repairs to cost £6.7bn
  • • Poor school buildings “damaging pupils’ health and education”
  • • Children sit in coats in cold classrooms
  • • England’s Department for Education says it will invest £23bn in school buildings over the next five years.
  • • 131 New Free Schools have been approved to open in England
  • • cross-party committee of MPs denounces free schools programme as “incoherent and too often poor value for money”
  • • Parents to be asked to contribute £400 to school funding
  • • Government backs more Grammar Schools
  • • Grammar Schools are to be more inclusive
  • • Plans to increase VAT on private education tuition fees to subsidise the state education system


Whilst MPs argue, the existing school estate is crumbling and, according to the National Audit Office, would require an estimated £7bn to restore it to a satisfactory standard. Further education colleges haven’t seen any significant funding increase for years. Meanwhile, universities increase tuition fees further to embark on huge redevelopment and refurbishment plans to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of students who, unless they are very lucky, will end up saddled in debt for years to come!

With the General Election around the corner, and education likely to be a key battleground for party leaders, do we think the message from the political parties will become any clearer? I suspect not, or at least the message is unlikely to be supported with a truly robust financial plan to deliver it nationally, beyond London.

The Scape Group, a leading Public Sector Framework provider for the UK believes over 2122 new schools may be required by 2020 in England alone. This is to accommodate the increasing numbers of children moving through the system as well as the forecast growth in population. Quite clearly, 2122 is a lot, but here’s the best bit – with 375,000 additional primary and secondary pupils expected to be added to registers in London and the South East in four years’ time, some 507 new schools will be required in London alone! To put this into perspective, this is more schools than any other region of England combined. That alone will require a significant rethink on how we use space effectively to accommodate everything our children require to gain the skills and knowledge needed to progress through life successfully.

The early stages of the 2017 election campaign have already seen party leaders clash on the issue of education. It is quite clearly an important issue. However, emotive words are not enough. We need to make sure that, whatever plan for education the country ends up with post election, it is a sustainable and cost-effective solution capable of delivering 2000-plus projects in four or five years’ time. Given the scale of demand for new educational facilities and the timeframe within which they need to be delivered, it is not just the question of how they are designed and built but also the speed with which they are funded that is critical. Can this honestly be achieved without some form of contribution from private investment? Is any Government truly focused and able to deliver an education agenda nationally?

Over the coming weeks and months we will be adding our thoughts and ideas to these questions and how Stephen George + Partners’ cross-sector knowledge and experience can help. Please keep an eye out.

If you wish to contribute to the discussion please do so – the more people that get involved the better.

Mark Smith