Heads claim school budgets will be ‘untenable’ in two years’ time

Nearly two-thirds of school leaders believe their budgets will be “untenable” in two years’ time, a survey has revealed.

The Breaking Point survey, published by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), also found more than double the number of schools say they were in debt compared to the previous year.

Most of the schools in the red were among the primary sector, the survey found.

The findings come as pressure mounts on the government to provide a funding boost for schools that are unhappy with their new settlement under the national funding formula.

A report by the National Audit Office last year found schools face £3 billion in cuts by 2020 to meet budget pressures.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said the responses showed that school finances were “even closer to breaking point than last year”.

“The reality behind these statistics is damage to learning and to the care of the pupils who need it most.”

Higher employer contributions for pensions and national insurance, and more pupils needing support for mental health issues, are significantly adding to already-reduced budgets last year, according to the NAHT survey.

As a result, 72 per cent of school leaders think their deficit will be “untenable” in two years’ time.

Reducing teaching assistants, cutting back on equipment and dipping into reserve funds were the main ways school leaders sought to patch up budget holes.

In its updated report for 2015-16, the NAHT collated responses from 1,102 headteachers and school business managers from November and December last year.

The majority (83 per cent) were primary schools, and only 17 per cent were academies, with the rest maintained schools.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “We have protected the core schools budget in real terms so that school funding will be over £40 billion 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.

“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.”


Here are our five key findings from the report:

1. More schools are in debt – and if budgets are balanced it’s because of cuts

The number of schools in deficit has doubled since the 2015 NAHT survey, increasing 10 percentage points to 18 per cent in 2016.

Of those schools with balanced budgets, 38 per cent did because they had made cuts and carried over a surplus.

Only 7 per cent of schools had a surplus, down from 17 per cent in 2015.

2. CPD and buying equipment are being chopped

Teaching assistants have been cut to face budget pressures, according to 66 per cent of respondents – a rise of 17 percentage points on last year. Hours of teaching staff have also been pulled back, more so in large schools than small schools.

But continuous professional development (CPD) saw the biggest fallout, with a “staggering” 20 percentage point increase in respondents saying this had been cut compared to last year – 66 per cent in total. This was especially the case in smaller schools.

School leaders stating they had stopped buying or investing in equipment was also up by 18 percentage points on last year.

3. Supporting more pupils with mental health needs is causing “extra pressure”

Some 78 per cent of respondents said the cost of supporting pupils with mental health needs had increased over the past three years.

The “overwhelming” majority of heads (93 per cent) said this was simply because there were more children with mental health issues – but 77 per cent reported that a lack of support from local authorities or mental health services was another factor.

“The impact of austerity on health and social care services is creating a vacuum and schools and academies are having to step into the gap”, said the report.

It follows a government announcement earlier this month that every secondary school in England will get free mental health training. But teaching unions had concerns over how it could still have a negative impact on school finances.

4. National insurance and teacher pension hikes “major factors”

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said the government’s policy of rising contributions to pensions was a key reason for lack of funds.

And 86 per cent of respondents said the same of employer contributions to teacher pensions.

The £600 million cut to the Education Services Grant “must be reversed”, the report said, as this was shifting many responsibilities onto schools.

Schools Week has previously reported that councils are charging schools thousands of pounds to convert to academies to try to cover their own costs.

 5. Nearly three-quarters of school leaders think their budgets will soon be unsustainable

Some 72 per cent of heads and school business managers thought their budget would be “untenable” in two years’ time, by 2019-20.

More than half (55 per cent) thought their deficit would be unmanageable earlier than that, by 2018-19.

6. Pupil premium enrollment must be automatic

Apart from calling for greater investment, the NAHT report also warned that current cash flows, such as for pupil premium, might not be going to every child that needed it.

“The need for parents to register their children as eligible for free school meals means that many children miss out. Government must share data about those pupils that are eligible with schools.”

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