School budgets will be ‘unsustainable’ by 2019, warn heads

School budgets will be 'unsustainable' by 2019, warn heads

CREDIT: This stoey wa first seen in TES

Nearly three-quarters of school leaders believe their budgets will be “unsustainable” by 2019, according to a survey of headteachers.

The TES reports that a poll of 1,102 school leaders reveals 18% of schools are in deficit, up from eight per cent last year.

More than two-thirds (71%) of school leaders say they are only able to balance their budgets by making cuts or dipping into reserves.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) also say their budgets would be unsustainable by 2019.

The survey reveals that 85% of respondents are having to reduce investment in equipment.

Increases in payroll costs, as a result of government policies, were cited as schools’ biggest financial pressure.

These costs went up in 2015 and have resulted in an increase to school budgets of over 5.5% every year, but there has been no resulting increase in funding from the government, according to headteachers’ union the NAHT, which carried out the survey.

Nearly half of respondents say the decline of local authority services has resulted in cost pressures.

In particular, they referred to the abolition of the education services grant (ESG), which funds school-improvement services and is being phased out this year.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of academy school leaders say they are concerned about the impact of cuts to the ESG.

The responses relate to schools’ 2016-17 budgets.

Bernadette Hunter, headteacher at William Shrewsbury Primary in Burton-upon-Trent, said: “Costs are rising at a time of stagnant budgets, and the new funding formula that we hoped would help will see our school lose £38,000 – a teacher’s salary. This is devastating.

“The funding formula will fail if there is not enough money put into it and children’s learning will suffer.”

Liam Collins, headteacher of Uplands Community College in East Sussex, said: “With inflation and unfunded cost increases, we only have £4,431 to spend on each pupil. To our overall budget, this is a cut of £208,711, which in three years rises to our school being underfunded by £350,000.

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“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 textbooks and no school planners.”

The growing number of children with mental health issues is a big concern for members, said the NAHT.

The cost of dealing with pupils’ additional needs was the third most quoted source of financial pressure, reported by 83% of respondents.

NAHT general secretatary Russell Hobby said: “School budgets are being pushed even closer to breaking point than before.

“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.”

He said 98% of schools are facing cuts and called for the government to take “urgent action”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have protected the core schools budget in real terms, so that school funding will be over £40bn in 2016-17 – its highest level on record.

“We are also consulting on plans to end the disparity in the school funding system. These proposals will not only see more than half of England’s schools receive a cash boost in 2018-19, but will also give headteachers certainty over their future budgets, helping them make long-term plans and secure further efficiencies.”