19 schools across in Dorset struggling to balance their books

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Bournemouth Daily Echo

Schools in Dorset are struggling to balance their books, according to the latest data from the Department for Education, The Bournemouth Daily Echo reports.

Of 117 schools maintained by Dorset County Council, 19 ran a deficit budget in the 2016-2017 financial year.

That’s 16 per cent of all state schools, excluding academies and free schools, which do not have to report their finances in the same way.

In Bournemouth and Poole a larger proportion of schools are now academies. Of 20 local authority maintained schools in Poole and six in Bournemouth none were in deficit over the same period.

A school may run a deficit if it spends more than usual on large projects such as building works.

However, the National Audit Office said in a report in 2016 that the increasing number of secondary schools in deficit across the country was a sign that they may be struggling financially.

If a school cannot balance its books it must notify the local authority, which may offer a short-term loan. Headteachers often have to cut back on staff and equipment to compensate.

In Dorset, the number of schools in deficit has increased in the past three years.

The figures show four more schools ran at a loss in the last financial year compared with the same period in 2014-2015.

The number of schools in deficit has also been increasing nationally. The most recent data show nine per cent of all local authority maintained schools ran at a deficit, a figure which has almost doubled from five per cent in 2014-2015.

Schools are funded mainly through a grant from the Department for Education, which allocates funds to each local authority based on demographic factors such as pupil numbers, deprivation and additional language needs.

The local authority then decides how to divide the money between individual schools. Dorset received £4,464 per pupil in the last financial year, up from £4,094 in 2014-2015.

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County councillor Deborah Croney, cabinet member for education, said: “Although a number of Dorset schools are in deficit, it’s important to highlight that 84 per cent ended 2016-17 within budget.

“There are many reasons why a school may fall into deficit, for example, real-term reductions in per-pupil funding, falling roll numbers, staff sickness or a higher number of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities.

“We offer tailored support to those schools in deficit by making sure they have a deficit recovery strategy.

“We also continue to be a member of f40 – a group of councils campaigning for better funding for education from the Government.”

Schools in England are facing a real-terms cut of 6.5 per cent between the current financial year and 2020, once inflation and rising pupil numbers are taken into account, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The thinktank calculated this was the largest cut in school spending per pupil over a four-year period since the early 1980s.

Covering pension and national insurance contributions was the biggest struggle for schools, according to a 2017 survey by the National Association of Head Teachers.

“The increase in costs of over 5.5 per cent every year with no resulting increase in school funding has been disastrous”, the report found.

The NAHT also reported that almost three quarters of head teachers believed their school budgets would be ‘untenable’ by 2020.

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