Hard on the heels of the Treasury Select Committee’s Report, with its comments on government funding of education – see previous post on this bog – comes the 10th Annual Academy Benchmark Report from Kreston Global Kreston-Academies-Benchmark-Report-2022-Web.pdf (krestonreeves.com) This detailed report raises a set of interesting questions, and also offers pointers as to why the labour market for teachers in the secondary sector may have been so buoyant during January 2022.
The Kreston Report comments that
“Once again, we are seeing record breaking in-year surpluses for MATs, whilst secondaries are showing a small increase and Primaries have fallen to 2019 levels. But this top level statistic hides the complex mix of variables giving rise to the surpluses. This result is likely to be a by-product of Covid-19 factors rather than an intentional result. The good news is that fewer Trusts are now in a cumulative deficit position and only 19% had an in-year deficit (2020: 25%).”
“The size of the in-year surpluses has gone up to record levels; there are less Trusts making in-year deficits, there are less Trusts with cumulative deficits, free reserves are up, and cash balances are up.” (page 12).
The Kreston Report adds that: “From conversations we have had with our Academy clients many were budgeting for in-year deficits or to break even, and were on track for this to happen. “(page 11).
Now, does this mean that a lot of the cash for catch-up programmes is already sitting in secondary school bank accounts? Why wasn’t the saving on supply teachers and other budget heading immediately transferred into support for pupils?
To allow reserves to increase during the pandemic raises questions abut either a lack of congruence between values and budgets or a less than perfect understanding of financial affairs by school leaders? Surely, neither is the case. However, the increase in balances, even if unexpected, does raise some interesting questions about the relationship between decision-making and educational values.
Way back in the 1990s, when I first worked on Assessment Centres for would-be headteachers, this was an issue of concern. Those in education are good at talking, but do they always possess the skills to put their values into actions? What is the relationship between the values of school business managers and education leaders, especially when faced with challenges for which there is no rulebook?
One reason for high cash balances cited by Kreston in the report is my old bugbear, saving for future capital spending. The Kreston Report says this “Some MATs do have a strategy of accumulating funds within the central fund to meet the costs of future capital projects, so this could explain why there are sizeable balances carried forward in some cases.” (page 20) My view has always been that revenue spending should be for today’s pupils, not those of tomorrow, especially when the non-physical environment is so challenged as it has been during the pandemic.
The Kreston report concludes with some interesting benchmark data, but not, as far as I can see, anything on staff recruitment costs. In view of the amount schools can spend in this area, that seems like a curious admission not to extrapolate it from the measure where it is no doubt currently buried.
Taken together, both the Select Committee Report on future spending and the Kreston Report on past trends make for interesting reading for anyone concerned with the education of the nation’s young people.