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Two-thirds of school heads 'make significant cuts to balance books'

An education union has called for school funding to keep step with cost pressures after a review found almost two thirds of school leaders made "significant" cuts to keep their books in the black.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) surveyed 1,069 schools and found 64% of leaders had introduced belt-tightening measures to stave off deficits.

These included cutting essential maintenance, reducing spending on both teachers and teaching assistance, reducing investment in equipment, and carrying over a surplus.

But 7% of those surveyed were already running at a loss, the union's Breaking Point report showed.

NAHT spokesman Russell Hobby said school budgets were already overstretched and the costs for national insurance and teachers' pensions would increase by more than 5% from this school year.

He said: "The money coming into schools is not keeping up with the expenditure they face."

Mr Hobby added: "This is coming right at the time when we're expecting more and more of schools.

"So we've got hundreds of thousands more pupils coming their way, we've had years of very little maintenance on the buildings, and we've got much higher standards as well."

Close to half of the school leaders surveyed said their budget would be untenable within two years and 67% believed they would be unable to balance the books in four years.

The review also found over 80% of school leaders feared education standards would be negatively affected by their cuts.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman insisted the Government was protecting the schools budget, which would rise as pupil numbers increase.

She said: "This government is committed to making sure schools are funded fairly so all pupils have access to a good education - a key part of our core mission to raise standards across the country and make sure every child reaches their full potential.

She added: "We have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, through an additional £390 million allocated to 69 of the least fairly funded areas in the country."

The funding was "the biggest step toward fairer schools funding" in a decade, the spokeswoman said.

Mr Hobby said the funding boost was merely facilitating a "catch up" for the very worst London schools.

He said: "But this is starting to affect schools all over the country, so that won't go far enough."

The union pointed to an Institute for Fiscal Studies finding that the Government's funding commitments equated to the first real terms cut in education spending since the 1990s.

The DfE said the Government had also allowed schools greater flexibility to set staff pay and offer their best teachers a pay rise, contrary to the previous arrangements under which a teacher's pay rose with the amount of time they had served.

The NAHT called for the Government to match the overall level of funding to the real cost pressure facing schools.

The report said: "Essentially, it is time to stop regarding the education budget as a cost and to look at it as an investment in the future prosperity of the nation."

The union suggested the Pupil Premium, which has been given to state schools since 2011 to improve the results of disadvantaged youngsters, should be registered automatically rather than forcing schools to establish eligibility.

Half of the schools that had a surplus budget had deliberately planned for a storm on the horizon, according to the report.

One school in Essex, which had a 2014 surplus of about £620,000, anticipated it could be up to £500,000 adrift next year, even with the savings.

The report's data was collected from primary phase schools, community schools, academies and free schools.


From Belfast Telegraph