Education secretary Michael Gove has admitted some schools would face real-term cuts in spending, warning heads of “tough” times ahead.
Speaking to the Commons education committee, Mr Gove said a number of institutions would be forced to accept budget reductions unless the economic forecast improved.
He suggested it would be down to local authorities to decide which schools bore the brunt, adding that they were being given “significant responsibility” under coalition plans.
He also defended the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), arguing that it was not the most effective way of helping disadvantaged children.
At present students aged 16 to 18 can apply for an allowance of up to £30 a week to help with outgoings.
But under government plans, this will be replaced with a discretionary learning support fund, through which money can be delivered to disadvantaged students through their college.
“That is a more active way of getting money over,” Mr Gove said.
Challenged that it would create a massive shortfall in funding, Mr Gove said the level for the new discretionary scheme had not yet been announced.
The education secretary said additional help would be given to children from poorer backgrounds through other means.
“We will be increasing the amount of money going to disadvantaged children,” he said without giving specifics.
He told the committee that the government would be looking at reforming the transport system to help sixth-form students from rural areas with their travel costs once the EMA was removed.
But he refused to guarantee free transport for those affected.
On the overall cuts to schools, the coalition minister was pressed repeatedly over whether or not it meant real-term budget cuts.
“It is an incredibly difficult situation,” Mr Gove replied.
Asked by Labour member Bill Esterson if this meant cuts, Mr Gove replied: “Yes. Well it depends on the school.”
But given the likely level of inflation, some institutions would face real-term cuts.
“It will be tough for heads in the next year,” Mr Gove conceded.
He added: “Everything is being driven by the broader economic process - it is inescapable.”