Posted: Fri 6th Nov 2020

Flintshire council leader says education in ‘can’t be provided Harry Potter-style’ amid concerns over large school deficits

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

A council leader has declared that education in Flintshire “can’t be provided Harry Potter-style” amid concerns about the level of deficits held by schools.

A report presented to councillors shows the county’s eleven secondary schools had budget shortfalls amounting to more than £2.3m at the close of the last financial year.

The figures published by Flintshire Council also revealed two schools were in the red by more than £700,000 as of the end of March.

Meanwhile, the overall level of reserves held by schools in the area has also dwindled to just £112,000, which represents a reduction of £1.2m compared with the previous year.

Members of the local authority’s education, youth and culture scrutiny committee said schools had been required to make tough decisions to balance their books and questioned whether more support was needed from the Welsh Government.

Head of the ruling Labour administration Ian Roberts acknowledged it would take increased funding to address the financial problems.

Referencing the Harry Potter books, he said schools could not be run for free by house elves, but stressed the council itself also had a responsibility to provide enough money.

Speaking at a virtual meeting held yesterday (5 November), he said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown that we need and we value good public services.

“It’s not something that can be provided Harry Potter-style by the house elves for nothing.

It costs real money “We know they need resources and it’s at the forefront of our priorities as a council.

“We do mention it to Welsh Government all the time but there is always a local option to this for any member who wishes to propose it.”

The two largest deficits held are by St David’s High School in Saltney at £776,000 and Ysgol Treffynnon in Holywell at £761,000.

The council said both schools are forecasting a worsening financial position in future years with “little expectation” of being able to recover.

Cllr Roberts stressed the authority was focused on providing the best possible standard of education possible for pupils.

However, committee member Rebecca Stark said the financial struggles had caused a reduction in the number of subjects on offer to youngsters.

She said: “Even though secondary schools are managing, as a governor this hasn’t been achieved easily by just balancing the books.

“The curriculum range has been produced and the options aren’t available for children.

“The schools are just having to deliver in a number of instances just the core curriculum without any opportunity to have a bit more flex.

“We’re delivering what the statutory requirement is but the learners are being affected by that limited choice and that’s of grave concern.”

Presenting the report earlier in the meeting, chief education officer Claire Homard said the financial outlook for Flintshire schools was likely to get worse because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She added there were no simple solutions to address the deficit position with low pupil numbers and government cuts adding to the problem.

She said: “It’s clear there is significant pressure still on school budgets and that’s reflected in the level of reducing school reserves.

“You can see in the executive summary the level to which reserves held by Flintshire schools has significantly decreased over the last financial year.

“We have the ongoing pressures related to the Covid situation which is certainly going to exacerbate the situation.”

She added: “There are no easy answers to this particular challenge and that’s why we’re highlighting it as a pressure in the budget for the portfolio going forward.

“At some point there’s going to have to be an intervention to ensure that secondary schools in particular are able to continue offering that provision.”

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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