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Schools in jeopardy as deficit deepens

Schools in jeopardy as deficit deepens

Flickr | National Assembly for Wales

James Gregory looks at the impact of recent cuts to schools.

The National Association of Head Teacher’s has claimed that nearly two-thirds (64%) of school heads in England are making significant cuts and are dipping in to reserves to fill deficits. The NAHT claims that schools will be strained should an increase in employer costs for national insurance and teacher’s pensions be pursued. The NAHT says heads find themselves having to cut back on areas such as equipment and facilities, maintenance and teaching assistants. The Department for Education on the other hand claims to be protecting schools’ budgets.

The questionnaire conducted by the NAHT was given to 1069 school leaders, the majority of whom (82%) were primary heads. They found that:

  • Over three-quarters (76%) of heads were using reserves
  • 64% were reducing investment in equipment
  • Around 50% were reducing their maintenance budget
  • 49% were reducing numbers or hours of teaching assistants

The NAHT survey, interestingly, also found that around 42% of school leaders deem their budget to be unsustainable, as it currently stands, within the next two years. Alarmingly, 67% of them said they would not be able to balance the books within 4 years, with 7% of those surveyed already claiming to be running a deficit.

Four in five state that budget cuts would have a negative impact on school standards. Russel Hobby, general secretary for the NACHT, said: “Flat cash education spending at a time of rising costs is pushing many schools closer to breaking point.

“Employer costs for national insurance and teachers’ pensions will increase by over 5% from this school year, adding to already over-stretched budgets. School leaders are being forced to cut spending in all areas, including essential maintenance and – most worryingly – on teachers and teaching assistants.”

He continued:

“Education is an investment in the future, leading eventually to higher productivity, better social outcomes and reduced spending on other public services – cuts to this budget are a false economy.”

Counter to this, the Department for Education released a statement saying:

“We are protecting the schools budget, which will rise as pupil numbers increase. This government is committed to making sure schools are funded fairly so all pupils have access to a good education – a key part of our core mission to raise standards across the country and make sure every child reaches their full potential. We have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, through an additional £390m allocated to 69 of the least fairly funded areas in the country – the biggest step toward fairer schools funding in 10 years. It is down to councils to determine exactly how funding is allocated to individual schools.”

Schools currently have numerous concerns to the increase in costs. Key cost increases faced by schools include the increase of the average public-sector pay settlement of 1% per year, a rise in employer National Insurance contributions from April 2016, and an increase in employer contribution to the Teacher Pension Scheme.

The worries faced by school heads has been mirrored by some in Parliament, including Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell, who argues the report highlights the financial pressures that schools will face over the next few years:

“Yet schools are supposed to be a “protected” expenditure. The reality is very different. Other education areas face even more difficulties in childcare and 16-19 studies.”

Speaker in the House of Commons, John Bercow, despite his role as mediator and “neutral” presence in government, has put his name on the letter being sent by more than 90 Conservative MPs intended to put pressure on Chancellor George Osborne ahead of the Spending Review.

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