ASCL responds to Public Accounts Committee report on financial sustainability of schools

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the report of the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, ‘Financial sustainability of schools in England’.
“It is not only the Public Accounts Committee that is frustrated by the Department for Education’s blithe insistence that schools have never had it so good. So are school leaders, who have to live with the reality of severely straitened budgets.
“There are many and complex reasons why there is significant variation in this financial picture and, to the DfE’s credit, it is trying to address this situation through the application of a National Funding Formula.
“The weakness, however, is that it is trying to improve the settlement for schools which are historically poorly funded while not having enough money in the pot to uplift the budgets for other schools, often in deprived communities, by the same amount. This has created a situation of winners and losers, with the losers being schools which serve children who need the most support. This is clearly inequitable.
“No school ever wants to curtail provision but there is a point at which there simply is not enough money in the budget to afford to deliver the full range of support that they want to provide. Many school leaders have had to make very difficult choices about where to cut back over the past few years. It is inevitable that this affects staffing levels because this is the most significant cost in a school, and this can affect the breadth of the curriculum and the pastoral support they are able to provide. Added to this is a complicated system of funding for special educational needs support which is utterly dysfunctional and which the DfE has, so far, taken more than two years to review.
“It is not surprising that some academy trusts have built up relatively large reserves. Part of the rationale for the formation of academy trusts is to make groups of schools responsible for thinking strategically about future needs. So, for example, they may decide to build up reserves for capital projects which will benefit their pupils. It is perfectly reasonable for the Public Accounts Committee to ask the DfE for more information about the purpose of reserves. However, it is frustrating that the DfE has apparently neglected to gather this information despite the endless barrage of requests for financial information which it already asks academy trusts to provide.
“What should be clear from all of this is that the school system in England continues to operate under considerable financial pressure. To make matters worse, the post-16 sector is in an even worse state with more than a decade of severe underfunding from the government. None of this is good enough for the children and young people who our schools and colleges are trying so hard to support day in and day out.”