Deficits, staff cuts and falling pupil numbers: academy accounts reveal financial pressures on schools

Arithmetic tests - but do the sums add up for the region's academies?Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Arithmetic tests - but do the sums add up for the region's academies?Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A leading education expert has said school finances were facing 'pressures on all sides' after an EDP analysis of 50 sets of academy accounts revealed deficits, staff cuts, and the impact of falling pupil numbers.

It comes a month after the government announced a one-year delay introducing a national school funding system, which schools in our region had hoped would boost their finances.

The Thomas Clarkson Academy, in Wisbech, reported the highest deficit in our region in 2014-15, of £969,000.

Its sponsor, the Brooke Weston Trust, blamed a local teacher shortage which pushed up its spending on supply teachers, and annual payments made as part of the private finance deal used to rebuild the school.

Ministers have said they are protecting the amount of cash schools receive per pupil, but the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said school spending per pupil is likely to fall by around 8pc by 2020 because of cost increases.

The 2014-15 accounts of the West Norfolk Academies Trust, whose eight schools include Springwood, St Clements and Marshland high schools, said financial risks included cuts to the education support grant, post-16 funding and money for special educational needs, while increases in pension and National Insurance contributions had increased costs.

It said: 'The combination of these factors could represent a further 3pc reduction in available funds next year.'

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The accounts said the trust was planning to centralise essential services and share staff across schools, and would 'seek economies through natural wastage where possible'.

Other schools whose accounts revealed they had made, or planned to make, savings through staffing include Acle Academy, Diss High, and Hartismere School, in Eye, while the EDP has already reported on staff cuts this year at Sewell Park Academy in Norwich, the Transforming Education in Norfolk (Ten) Group, and the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT).

In its 2014-15 accounts, Norfolk Academies, which includes Attleborough, Fakenham and Wayland academies as part of the Ten Group, warned its future performance 'will be heavily impacted upon by the financial context in which it has to work'.

Chief executive Dick Palmer said: 'Schools everywhere are facing a very challenging financial environment, with pressures on all sides.

'Here in Norfolk many schools are having to contend with the additional pressure of demographic changes, with a decline in the numbers of young people resulting in a further drop in their funding.'

Problems caused by falling pupil numbers were highlighted in the accounts of a number of other high schools.

Those for Acle Academy reported: 'The governors recognise that the school will have to undertake a major structural review in 2015-16 for implementation in September 2016 to ensure it remains viable as a going concern. This will involve a significant staffing adjustment, reflecting the reduced number of staff required to teach and support a future number on roll falling between 550-580 students over the next three years.'

Taverham High's accounts said it was maintaining 'a relatively high level of free reserves' because demographics meant 'rolls are anticipated to fall significantly over the next three to four years'.

The accounts for Flegg High, in Martham, said local demographics saw pupil numbers drop from 850 to 795 between 2014 and 2015, and they were projected to fall further in the future. It said governors were planning for the impact of this 'on the financial position of the school and on future staffing requirements'.

Schools reporting in-year deficits included Acle Academy, Taverham High, the Iceni Academy in Methwold, the Nicholas Hamond Academy in Swaffham, Diss High, the Short Stay School for Norfolk, Sir John Leman High in Beccles, and the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, in Norwich.

Diss High School's accounts said its in-year deficit was caused by high staff costs compared with its general annual grant, and 'significant expenditure on school premises', but its budget for 2015-16 showed an in-year surplus.

ATT said Iceni's deficit was caused by a number of projects taking place there, while Hamond's deficit was largely due to an extra 50 pupils who joined the school, for whom it did not receive funding.

Similarly, Sir John Leman's accounts said its spending exceeded its income by £325,000 because of 'unprecedented numbers of in-year admissions'.

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See tomorrow's EDP for part two of our academy series, looking at salaries.