Balls agrees to education budget cuts

By Liz Stephens

Children’s secretary Ed Balls has set out possible large scale cuts to the education budget as the row over public spending cuts intensifies.

The proposals, which will include cutting the number of headteachers, a “tough” pay deal for teachers and efficiency savings from more tightly controlled school budget balances, have met fierce opposition from other parties and from teaching unions.

Mr Balls is the first cabinet minister to set out cuts in his department – however, the children’s secretary today denied reports that he had identified £2 billion worth of savings.

Speaking to The Guardian today Mr Balls said: “We can only keep delivering for families and for children in our schools if we find savings.

“I’d like to see real-term rises for schools, but we’re not going to see the 4 per cent plus real-term rises we’ve seen.”

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg criticised the proposed cuts saying it was “absolute madness to blight the life chances of the young”.

However, Lib Dem treasury spokesman Vince Cable said on the weekend that nothing in the education budget, should be considered “sacrosanct” against cuts.

The news that Mr Balls planned to “federalise” primary school headteachers – leading to schools sharing leaders – led to particularly scathing criticism from unions.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There are good reasons why some comprehensive schools federate, but it would be disastrous if this policy is pursued by the government as a means of saving money on school leadership positions.

“School leaders will be very angry to be lumped together with bureaucrats as a means of saving money after the general election.”

The proposals came as the CBI called for the government to raise tuition fees and cut grants to students in order to tackle the funding crisis in the higher education sector.