Financial timebomb facing Essex schools as education costs mount

Schools in Essex are facing severe financial problems Picture: DAVID DAVIES/PA

Schools in Essex are facing severe financial problems Picture: DAVID DAVIES/PA - Credit: PA

Deficit levels among schools managed and maintained by Essex County Council (ECC) could rocket by more than fivefold in five years – if the same pressures facing one school in Chelmsford are felt across the county.

Facing a deficit of around £800,000 in five years, the head teacher, who does not want to be named, said the only option left to address would be to make redundancies.

Currently the school, one of 230 predicted to be in deficit out of a total of 268 ECC maintained schools, is facing a deficit in 2018/19 of £142,000.

But the head teacher said he “sat in disbelief” after being warned that could rise to around £800,000 in five years.

If that was mirrored across the county, schools could be facing a total deficit of more than £50m.

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The headteacher said: “The only solution is redundancies. That is the only way of saving significant money and that would mean losing significant amounts of provision.

“We have performing arts specialists, music specialist, sports specialist. These are at the heart of the breadth of our curriculum.

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“If we start to lose things our offer to the children will be significantly diminished.

“We’d have to lose LSA (learning support assistnat) support, and SEN (special educational needs) support and can we keep standards up without intervention work?

“Will the teachers cope? Ofsted accountability pressures are significant.”

With a cumulative deficit of around £11m in 18/19, if each ECC-maintained school faced similar kinds of financial pressures, that total deficit could increase well beyond £50m by 2023/2024.

The headteacher said: “In five years’ time from now, according to the tools we have been provided by county with, we are due to be £800,000 in deficit and we have governing meetings where we look at the figures and we sit in disbelief.”

Schools with a deficit budged have to set a plan to detail how they are going to get themselves out of deficit.

Strikingly, over the period of four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter of all such schools – or 26.1 per cent.

The average local authority maintained secondary school deficit rose over this seven year period, from £292,822 in 2010-11 to £374,990 in 2016-17.

The number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has also risen.

Jerry Glazier, general secretary of the Essex branch of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “I just think it is an inevitable consequence of the government’s lack of commitment to fund education across the board – it doesn’t matter if they are maintained schools or academies, they are all facing the same significant cost pressures which are not being met by adequate funding from central government.”

An Essex County Council spokesperson said: “The pressures which schools are under in terms of their funding is a national issue and subject which, in Essex, we have been lobbying the Government hard for a review of how the system works.

“The recent extra funding for schools which the Chancellor announced in his budget was welcome, but as with other aspects of funding which councils are responsible for or have an interest in, unless the underlying issues are addressed, school budgets are likely to remain under pressure.”

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