A generation of children is paying the price of austerity, it has been claimed, as new figures revealed almost a third of council-run secondary schools are in deficit.
A new report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI), published on Friday, underlines the scale of the funding crisis facing both primary and secondary schools in 2019.
The report states that 30.3% of local authority (LA) maintained secondary schools in England were grappling with budget deficits in 2017/18, up from 8.1% in 2014.
The average secondary school was nearly half-a-million pounds (£483,569) into the red, with one-in-10 saddled with a deficit higher than 10% of their income.
The Education Policy Institute found:
- Budget deficits a much bigger problem for secondary schools than primary schools.
- One in 10 council secondaries has a deficit representing over 10% of their income.
- The proportion of special schools in deficit has almost doubled since 2014.
- Half of secondary academies are spending more than they bring in
- The Department for Education has flagged over half-a-billion (£580m) of council-run school surpluses “excessive”.
- 8% of primary schools were in the red in 2017/18.
- 38% of primary academies were spending more than their income.
- Half of secondary academies and 64% of local authority schools were spending more than their income.
- Despite the huge rise in deficits for some schools, a large number maintained surpluses.
Meanwhile, the number of pupils in school has risen by 326,000 since 2015 and there are 5,000 fewer teachers and 10,700 fewer staff.
The . EPI says a substantial proportion of schools have balances deemed “excessive” according to the Department for Education – 40.7% of primary schools, 46.4% of special schools and 34.1% of secondary schools.
It argues that around four-fifths of school deficits could be eliminated if the government boosted per-pupil spending and if councils could share out reserves across different institutions.
Jon Andrews, report author and deputy head of research at the EPI, said: “These statistics highlight again the financial pressure that schools in England are under, particularly at secondary level.
“But they also show that a large number of schools are maintaining significant surpluses.
“The challenge for government, local authorities, and school leaders, is whether that money should now be redistributed.”
This is a government that appears to care nothing for the quality of education our children and young people receive.Kevin Courtney, National Education Union
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called the report “startling” evidence that schools “have hit the financial cliff edge that we have repeatedly warned is looming”.
He said: “This is a direct result of government under-funding and the current situation is simply unsustainable.”
He added: “What is clear is that the current trend is one of increasing deficits and unless action is taken to improve the level of funding, it is highly likely that educational standards will deteriorate.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, also blamed government policy for the “predictable” figures.
“Cost pressures in the education system and the increase in secondary school pupil numbers mean more secondary schools will face a deficit in future years,” he said.
Courtney predicted more schools will have gone into the red by the end of the academic year, adding: “This is a government that appears to care nothing for the quality of education our children and young people receive. It is time they listened to the head teachers, teachers, school staff, and parents who are saying ‘enough is enough’ and ensure our schools are properly funded.”
The highly-respected think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has calculated that per-pupil funding has fallen by 8% since the Tories came to power in 2010.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, said: “The Conservatives have cut school budgets for the first time in a generation, yet they refuse to accept that this is creating a crisis in our schools, even as their own figures show the number of schools in deficit is skyrocketing.
“These cuts have made it impossible for many schools to even make ends meet, and there will be a generation of children paying the price for the Conservatives’ failure.”
But the government highlighted some positive figures in the report, including how 45% of council schools increased their cumulative surplus last year.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Whilst the core schools and high needs budget is rising from almost £41bn in 2017-18 to £43.5bn by 2019-20, we do recognise the budgeting challenges schools face.
“That is why the education secretary has set out his determination to work with the sector to help schools reduce the £10bn they spend on non-staffing costs and ensure every pound is spent as effectively as possible to give children a great education.
“School standards are still rising – there are 163,000 more six-year-olds now on track to be fluent readers than in 2012, a more rigorous curriculum and qualifications, 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools – with 86% of schools now judged to this standard, compared to 68% in 2010 – and a shrinking attainment gap.”