The government has launched an inquiry following a significant miscalculation in the Department for Education’s (DfE) funding plans for the upcoming academic year. Susan Acland-Hood, the DfE’s top official, issued an apology for the error, acknowledging that the number of pupils had been underestimated. Initially, there was a planned 2.7% increase per pupil for the 2024/25 academic year, but this was revised down to 1.9%.
In her letter to the Parliamentary Education Select Committee, Acland-Hood stated, “We will be issuing new National Funding Formula (NFF) allocations to correct that error while ensuring the promised £59.6 billion Core Schools Budget is fully delivered.” She also expressed regret for the mistake and confirmed that a formal review of the quality assurance process for NFF calculation would be conducted, with independent scrutiny. The goal is to prevent similar errors from occurring in the future.
The NFF serves as the government’s method to determine the annual funding allocation for English state schools. Originally, the error would have inflated the overall schools budget by £370 million for the 2024/25 academic year. Although the funds for this period have not yet been disbursed, Acland-Hood acknowledged the challenges that the correction might pose for local authorities and school leaders. She assured that the DfE would collaborate closely with school stakeholders, including unions, to communicate the change and provide support to schools and local authorities.
However, this error has not gone unnoticed by critics. Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson criticized the Conservative government, stating that such mistakes create more uncertainty for schools and families already burdened by years of budget cuts. She emphasized that only Labour could ensure the high and rising standards that children deserve.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, expressed frustration over the chaos within the government. He highlighted the impact of accounting errors on school budgets, forcing leaders to reconsider essential decisions related to staffing and student support.
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, described the error as “shocking.” He criticized Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who had previously pledged to prioritize education funding. Kebede revealed last-minute, unplanned cuts, which further exacerbated challenges faced by schools, including record class sizes and difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention.
The situation has raised concerns not only about the immediate budgetary implications for schools but also about the government’s ability to deliver reliable policies and funding commitments. As stakeholders await the corrected allocations, the incident underscores the importance of accurate planning and transparent communication in the education sector.