Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 18:07 UK

Where might 2bn less be spent?

By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor

classroom
Cuts have to be found as the numbers in education are growing

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has suggested England's schools could manage on £2bn less each year without the cuts hitting the front line. How?

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said the £2bn figure used in news reports had not come from them - although Mr Balls did not rush to deny it in a TV interview.

It is said there is no list as such. But Mr Balls and his officials have indicated the sorts of savings they feel can be made.

Federations of schools are seen as a key area.

On the basis of savings achieved in existing federations, by having a single leadership team and subject heads, Mr Balls suggested that "a third of a billion" could readily be found.

Retirement

But it is not clear how much of an evidence base there is for this idea.

A spokeswoman suggested that one federation of three schools had saved £180,000 - and that if half of that were found from a third of schools the saving might be £275m.

Besides, federations are not a new policy, they are already being set up where circumstances suit those involved. And Mr Balls said he did not want to impose them from above.

So any savings that do accrue might be making a virtue of necessity, not least as ageing school leaders retire.

Head teachers are sceptical. Good schools have to be well led and managed, they say, and "decapitating" them is no way forward.

Energy costs

Likewise it is argued that if a third of schools got together to purchase such things as caretaking and cleaning services they might save £160m.

Other procurement costs - for example on buildings, insurance and energy - account for £7.8bn a year.

So saving 10%, which the department thinks is entirely achievable, would represent £780m.

It is said that perhaps £100m could come from axing the staff in the "field forces" which advise schools on the implementation of various national strategies.

The contentious issue of schools' "excessive" balances - not so excessive if you are saving up for a new dining hall, it is argued - has also been thrown into play again.

It is argued by the DCSF that about £560m might be recouped.

So that brings the potential total to more than £1,900m.

And then the government would aim to maintain downward pressure on teachers' pay in the next three-year deal, starting in 2012.

'Value for money'

The department has a good track record when it comes to making savings.

The Treasury said in April that the DCSF had "overdelivered" against its efficiency target for 2005-08, securing £3.9bn.

The department identified scope to deliver further "value for money" savings by 2010-11.

It agreed to find an additional £650m without adversely affecting the quality of key services.

These were to come primarily from non-departmental public bodies such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority, the Training and Development Agency for schools and the National College for School Leadership.

And, counter-intuitively, from the growth in post-16 learner numbers over the next two years.

How does a growth in numbers - with the raising of the education leaving age in England - save you money?

"Economies of scale", they say.



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