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Council to give financially stricken schools £972,000 lifeline

Wednesday, 13 March 2024 19:12

By Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter

North Yorkshire Council - which has one of the country’s highest number of schools failing to balance their books - has set out how it intends to distribute a £1m government grant to ease pressures over the coming year.

While North Yorkshire often receives about one per cent of government funding for projects in line with its population size, a meeting of the unitary council’s executive on Tuesday (19th March) will hear the county has been given £972,000 of £20m, almost five per cent of that available to councils nationally to boost schools in financial difficulty.

An officer’s report to the meeting states the funding has been allocated proportionately among local authorities who have aggregated the highest school-level deficits.

The proposed move comes two weeks after it emerged schools across North Yorkshire had forecast they are likely to face a collective annual deficit of more than £11m in just over two years and by next month 36 schools were set to have an average deficit of £194,000.

This included 25 primaries, seven secondaries and four special schools, with a meeting hearing the situation had worsened in the last five years.

While North Yorkshire’s 208 council-run schools had a combined surplus of some £13m last March and are projected to be still be in the black by some £10.1m next month, schools have predicted seeing that surplus dwindle to £3m by next March and then a collective £11.5m deficit by March 2026.

The extra funding will see struggling special schools and primary schools with more than 200 pupils an extra £50,000, primaries with less than 200 pupils schools  £25,000 and secondary schools in the red £100,000.

The report states the authority intends to support as many schools as possible to return to a budget surplus within five years and “provide acknowledgment and support to those schools with the most serious and underlying structural budget deficits”.

It adds: “It is recognised that the proposed additional funding allocation, in some instances, may not be proportionate to the level of the budget deficit of an individual school.”

In recent weeks, the council’s leadership has repeatedly called for a review of the national funding formula for schools and underlined North Yorkshire is among the country’s lowest funded education authorities, despite facing high costs due to operating many small rural schools.

The Conservative-run authority says although the county does receive some “sparsity funding” to help cover providing education across a vast area and that it was “battling against a number of other interests in the country” over what factors should be given weight when distributing government education funding.

Although the council’s leaders and officers say they have emphasised the issue to the government, opposition councillors have questioned whether the lobbying has been sufficiently vociferous.

Ahead of the executive meeting, the council’s children and families scrutiny committee chair and former teacher, Councillor Barbara Brodigan, said the extra funding would not cover the deficits that the schools were facing.

The Liberal Democrat Ripon councillor said: “For some schools it will not be nearly enough to plug the funding gap. It is a short-term measure and the government needs to be looking long-term at measures not just for schools to survive, but provide the quality of education that parents expect.

“The situation is only going to get worse. The impact of this is we will see more and more schools, particularly the small rural schools, closing. The council can only distribute the funding it gets from government.

“Schools are struggling to balance the books and some of them are having to make choices about replacing staff that leave or recruiting new staff and resources, which shouldn’t be a choice they have to make.”

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