NOTE: This content is old - Published: Monday, Sep 23rd, 2019.
Concerns have been raised over the rising levels of debt faced by Flintshire’s secondary schools.
A new report has been published which shows seven of the county’s eleven secondary schools are currently in the red, resulting in an overall deficit of £1.45m.
It represents an increase of £169,000 compared to the previous year.
The worst arrears of just over £646,000 were incurred by Ysgol Treffynnon in Holywell, according to figures recorded at the end of the 2018/19 financial year.
Details of the money problems have been made public shortly after an inspection by education watchdog Estyn found Flintshire Council had allowed a small number of schools to carry a shortfall for too long.
Education officials have partly blamed funding cuts from central government for the budget pressures.
In a report, Claire Homard, the local authority’s chief officer for education and youth, said a decline in pupil numbers in secondary schools had also contributed.
In the report, she said: “The level of reserves held by secondary schools with positive balances is one per cent of budget which highlights concerns about the financial resilience of the secondary school sector in Flintshire.
“There are a number of factors which have contributed to the current financial position.
“The ongoing austerity measures over recent years have resulted in schools having to absorb inflationary increases in pay, pension and NI increases.
“In recent years, secondary pupil numbers have been declining whilst primary pupil numbers have been increasing and this has resulted in a redistribution of funding between sectors.
“However, this trend is now reversing and pupil numbers in the secondary sector are now increasing which will have a positive financial impact on the secondary sector going forward.
“Smaller secondary schools with increasing deficits elicits the question as to whether the funding formula provides sufficient resource for schools to operate sustainably.”
A special taskforce has been set up by the council to address some of the issues raised by Estyn.
The position for Flintshire’s secondary schools is in stark contrast to its primary schools, which hold a collective surplus of more than £2.5m.
The authority said the overall positive balance of around £1.3m across all schools could be resdistributed to those which are struggling to plug the gap, but concluded the move would pose ‘serious challenges’.
Ms Homard warned more schools could slip into debt unless funding is increased.
She added: “The ongoing focus for headteachers on managing a difficult financial situation whilst striving for educational excellence is a constant pressure.
“As funding levels to schools decrease as a consequence of the austerity measures facing local government, there is a risk that more schools will slip into a deficit position.
“The schools accounting team have developed a risk rating process to identify schools where the financial position is a cause for concern so that they can target their support.
“Schools forecasting a significant deficit position will be required to apply for a licensed deficit.”
The report will be considered by members of the council’s education and youth scrutiny committee on Thursday.
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).