Today’s Budget has come under attack as the Chancellor faces claims that a £320m fund for free schools would be better spent elsewhere.
Philip Hammond delivered his first Spring Budget this afternoon which highlighted plans to put aside £320m to fund 110 new free schools, in addition to the 500 already pledged to be created by 2020.
The government believes its White Paper will create a more level playing field and provide equal opportunities for children of all backgrounds.
Mr Hammond said: “Our forthcoming White Paper will ask universities and private schools to sponsor new free schools. It will remove the barriers that prevent more good faith-based free schools from opening, and it will enable the creation of new selective free schools so that the most academically-gifted children of every background get the specialist support they need to fulfill their potential.
“Good schools are the bedrock of our education system, but we need to do more to help our young people into quality jobs and develop world-class skills.”
However, the announcement was met with cries of disapproval from the opposition, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the decision as a “gimmick”.
Members of the public have been equally quick to criticise the decision, with the National Union of Teachers agreeing with Mr Corbyn, saying it is a “flagrant waste of money”.
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, the largest teachers’ union, said: “This budget is a complete dereliction of duty to our children and young people. The Chancellor knows full well that schools and sixth form colleges up and down the country are on their knees struggling to make ends meet. School budgets have been cut to the bone, class sizes have increased, subjects have been dropped from the curriculum, materials and resources are scarce yet nothing has been done to address this very serious problem.
“Instead of tackling this crisis of their own making, we now learn that extra funding will pour into the opening of new free schools and grammar schools for which there is absolutely no need. Parents and teachers will be deeply dismayed at this flagrant and irresponsible waste of money. These are simply the wrong priorities.”
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also agreed, saying the money should go to ensure all schools received “suffient funding, not throw money at a chosen few.”
Managing director of online supply teacher portal, The Supply Register, Baljinder Kuller, said the announcement simply “ignored” the very real issues facing the education sector.
He said: “While it’s fantastic that the education sector has not been overlooked in what has been hailed by many as a ‘no-frills’ Budget, Hammond’s plans seem to outright ignore the existing issues that school leaders are currently facing.
“At a time when headteachers are protesting about a funding crisis in existing schools, directing funds into new schools seems bizarre – particularly when the National Audit Office is questioning if free schools offer value for money.”
The Budget also offered free school transport to children who already qualify for free school meals, while a further £216m is to be spent on refurbishing existing schools.
It also announced the introduction of T - Levels - a new form of technical qualification that aims to put these types of studies on a par with traditional educational subjects.
Mr Hammond described the investments as “game-changing” and believes the changes will help make young people “work ready”, and give them the tools they need to fulfill their potential.