Labour launches final education strategy

By Liz Stephens and Ian Dunt

Schools secretary Ed Balls published the last education white paper before the general election today.

The paper was sparse on spending policies and awash with cost saving initiatives.

Speaking in advance of the white paper, Mr Balls denied that future cuts were inevitable.

However, the government has already announced that its current contract with Capita will come to an end in 2011.

Multiple schools will be branded under one banner and headteachers stretched across several institutions.

School report cards, conaitning information on pupil and parent satisfaction, will replace league tables.

Teaching will not become a Masters level profession, and a new license to teach will be implemented.

Two more city academies have been given the go ahead.

“No wonder it’s published on recycled paper,” shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said of the white paper.

“This white paper is as original, fresh and innovative as the secretary of state’s performance on the BBC Today programme.”

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws said: “Ed Balls is making promises on education which he knows he can’t keep.

“How can he promise to deliver the Building Schools for the Future programme when the government plans to cut capital spending in half?” he added.

The white paper comes as the Audit Commission found evidence of nearly £1 billion waste among educational institutions since Labour came to power.

Schools have “taken their eye off the ball” in how efficiently they are run, and big changes will need to be made in future, according to the auditors.

The Audit Commission report will also censure local authorities, the government and Ofsted.

The report comes as cuts loom over the public sector. Some predict education spending could plummet to levels not seen since Thatcherism.

Michael O’Higgins, chairman of the Audit Commission, said: “Schools are not wasting money deliberately, but I don’t think the focus has been enough on economy and efficiency.”

This news was received badly by John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who said that the report will inflame the political debate over public spending.

“Yet again, here we have an Audit Commission report on numbers, not on educational priorities,” he said.

Mr Dunford went on to defend schools against the accusation that they are “squirreling away” large reserves of cash.

“At a time of financial uncertainty, it is sensible to hold more in reserve against the rainy day that we know is to come in 2011,” he said.

“There are excessive balances in some schools, although most of these are earmarked for future projects, which may well be building projects,” he said.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) announced last week that it will now be able to fund just 13 of the 180 college building projects due to be undertaken under the Building Colleges for the Future scheme. Many schools are worried that they could be next.

The schools minister, Vernon Coaker, says: “Schools should be able to keep a small balance from year to year, but we expect local authorities to take action where necessary to ensure there is proper value for money.

Local authorities broadly welcomed the report.