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Budgets edging closer to ‘breaking point’ as fifth of schools now in deficit

School budgets are edging closer to breaking point as the number of schools in deficit has doubled since 2015, a union of school leaders has warned.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) survey of 1,102 school leaders found growing concern about financial pressures, with 98% of schools losing funding and nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents saying that their school was forced to use reserves and cut spending to balance their budgets.

The NAHT said that 18% of schools now find themselves in deficit, compared to 8% in 2015, and 72% of head teachers warning that their budgets will be unsustainable by 2019.

Russell Hobby, its general secretary, said: “Schools are acutely feeling the impact of an estimated £3bn shortfall in the government's education budget by 2020 – the first real-terms cuts to education spending since the 1990s.

“The government must take urgent action and commit to funding schools sufficiently in the next Budget. It is time to stop viewing education spending as a cost and to start seeing it as an investment in England's future, and in our children's.”

Head teachers told the NAHT that increases in payroll costs as a result of government policies were schools’ biggest financial issue, resulting in an increase to school budgets of over 5.5% that is not being matched by government funding.

Respondents highlighted the decline of local authority services such as proposed £600m cuts to the Education Services Grant as their second largest cost pressure, followed by the cost of dealing with the additional needs of pupils, such as mental health issues, due to cuts in health and social care.

“Staff in our schools are being asked to be doctors, police officers, social workers and family support assistants as well as teachers,” said James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT edge. “They cannot do this without additional resources.”

One head teacher warned that per-student funding is not protected under the government’s new ‘flat’ funding formula, which will see his school underfunded by £350,000 by 2020.

In simple terms this is a cut of 10 teachers, fewer clubs, no pastoral support, a narrowed curriculum, no counselling for students struggling with mental health issues, crumbling buildings, no IT upgrades, no new text books and no school planners,” said Liam Collins, head teacher at Uplands Community College in Wadhurst, East Sussex.

“Eventually this will impact on student outcomes. This is not about fair funding, but enough funding for all schools to operate.”

But a Department for Education spokesman argued that school funding will be over £40bn in 2016-17, the highest on record, adding that the government’s new funding formula would eventually help to end the “postcode lottery” in schools’ budgets.

“These proposals will not only see more than half of England's schools receive a cash boost in 2018-19 but will also give head teachers certainty over their future budgets, helping them make long-term plans and secure further efficiencies," the spokesman said.

“We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide advice and support to help them use their funding in cost-effective ways, including improving the way they buy goods and services, so they get the best possible value for their pupils.”

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Alan Sambrook   23/01/2017 at 13:07

How many of schools in this situation are schools outside of local authority control? Could profit before education be causing more of the problems?

Julie M   23/01/2017 at 14:33

I am SBM at a local primary school not free or academy. I am looking at a shortfall of more than £165,000. Support staff quite rightly will receive 3% pay rise leaving them on 13k a year. NI contributions up, Teachers moving up the pay scale. Services once provided by the LA now have to be paid for. This will be the same picture across the country.

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