Crocodile Tears?

This is the time of year when the DfE reports the revenue details about the dwindling band of maintained schools. Dwindling, because state-funded academies and free schools report differently and also have a different financial year to Maintained Schools that would make comparisons difficult, even were the data easily available. The information on spending both by the maintained school system and by individual schools for 2013/14 can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-education-and-childrens-services-spending-2013-to-2014

Total expenditure by Maintained Schools was some £30 billion pounds in 213/14. It cannot be compared to the previous years because of the academy conversion programme and the development of free schools. However, remaining maintained schools on average had reserves of some £117,000 each, with the 93% of such schools with positive balances averaging around £130,000 each. Staffing was the largest item of expenditure by schools.

Although most schools spent more money per pupil in 2013/14, some £150 per pupil in the primary schools; £185per pupil in the secondary schools; £442 in the special schools; nursery schools spend £201 less per pupil than in the previous year.  The development of an Early Years Pupil Premium may see this decline reversed in future years.

More interestingly, despite the increase in spending per pupil, schools on average still managed to increase the size of their reserves. Primary schools with a surplus added £5,500 to create average balances of £98,000 and the remaining maintained secondary schools added on average £16,600 to create an average reserve per school of £422,000. In total, the declining maintained school sector still managed to amass reserves of £2.2 Billion pounds sitting dormant in bank accounts. One must assume that since the majority of academies are secondary schools the overall figure for school balances might be in excess of £4 billion and possibly even higher across the system.

How large should school reserve be? The DfE recommends 5% for secondary schools and 8% for primary schools. I personally think 10% for smaller primary schools might be a safer margin but, even so, there are many schools that exceed these limits as the DfE’s detailed tables reveal. Like rising house prices, the number of schools with revenue balances in excess of a million pounds also seems to increase each year. Despite the transfers to academies of some of the schools with large reserves last year there were still more than 100 schools with balances in excess of £1 million at the end of March 2104 and 14 of these had more than £2 million in revenue reserves. One can only assume that they are converting revenue to capital, an acceptable practice now, but one that deprives current pupils of some possible expenditure on their education.

Whether saved for a purpose or just saved these figures do call into account the issue of how well schools are being funded and why the teacher associations keep saying schools are under-funded? Possibly they are, and an increase in salaries could easily change the position overnight, but on the evidence schools still weren’t being squeezed anything like as tightly as many other parts of government spending during 2013/14. But, maybe it was the academies that were suffering.

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