In December I wrote on this blog in a post headed crocodile tears that: ‘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.
’ According to figures obtained from the DfE and printed in the Guardian today schools are carrying balances of more than £4 billion and, as I predicted, academies had more than £2.4 billion in reserves at the end of March 2014, although one must be slightly careful as that isn’t the end of their financial year as it is for other state funded schools.
Although schooling is big business, with millions of pupils and more than half a million teachers, this is still a sum across all schools equal to half the level of investment it is suggested that the NHS needs in England between now and 2020. The question must therefore be, is this level of reserves necessary at the school level and, if not, what can be done about the situation?
Guidelines suggest reserves of 5% for secondary schools; 8% for primary schools and I would suggest perhaps 10% for the smallest rural primary schools. However, the Minister in his answer to Frank Dobson’s question referred to schools holding one month’s expenditure as the test of solvency. That equates to just over 8% of annual revenue, so probably a bit high for a large secondary school since academy financial years mirror the school year so salaries are secure for the whole of an academic year.
Today Children’s Services Weekly has reported that Cambridgeshire faced a large increase in home to school transport costs due to more staying on after sixteen and increased SEN transport costs. This highlights the dilemma facing our education system: putting the funding where it is most useful. Certainly sitting idle in schools bank accounts because there might be a rainy day at some point in the future, is a waste of public money. As regular readers of this blog know, I dislike revenue spending being saved and turned into building projects for future pupils. The money is, in my opinion, for the education of the present generation not for their younger brothers and sisters.
Personally, I think the government should now publish the revenue balances of all academies in the same manner as they do for other publicly funded schools. They should also measure overheads paid to academy trusts compared with local authority charges for similar services and those bought directly from the private sector. Protecting the education budget is one thing, but obtaining value for money is another and equally important duty.
As regular readers know TeachVac launches today. It was originally an idea to collect data about the labour market but now, like the disruptive retailers, it has been shown to offer significant saving while providing the level of management information any large organisation should possess about the turnover of its workforce. If you haven’t been to http://www.teachvac.co.uk do pay a visit and view the demo videos on both the schools and teachers sections of the web site.