Tory education minister Michael Gove is to dip into a fund reserved for technology in schools to fund his flagship 'free school' scheme.
Swedish-style 'free schools' have been the centrepiece of the new Tory education strategy – and were to be funded, according to the Tories' pre-election claims, using spare cash from New Labour's £55 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) fund.
Now, in a secret U-turn, it seems Conservative education bosses plan to divert money originally designed to promote the use of technology in schools.
In a statement made on 20 April, in the run-up to the recent election, then-shadow education spokesman Gove told The Independent newspaper: "The capital cost [of new free schools] will come from reducing spending on the government’s extremely wasteful Building Schools for the Future programme by 15 per cent.”
Channel 4 News has revealed that, in a confidential briefing document for a press conference due to be held today, Gove admitted the Treasury was "unlikely to agree" to BSF money being used for free schools, because Government financial bosses were not convinced that the reported underspend would actually materialise.
Last week, the Department of Education also ruled out using money saved by the scrapping of an £85 million scheme to extend free school meals to half a million children from low-income families. After reportedly considering it, Gove is believed to have backed away from the move when critics accused him of robbing the poor to fund wealthier parents, believed to be the most likely beneficiaries of the free school scheme.
Instead, the Government is diverting £50 million from a £200 million technology fund to help pay for the set-up costs of free schools being created this year. The money would have been used to pay for interactive whiteboards and other classroom kit.
Estimates suggest the £50 million funding would be enough to build three new schools. Gove has pledged to tear up "bureaucratic" planning rules that will enable empty offices and shops to be converted for school use in a bid to make the funding stretch further.
The Education Secretary is reported to be looking for other savings to fund the projected £120 million cost of free schools over the following financial year.