FINANCIAL “task forces” could be sent into the district’s struggling schools to help heads regain control of their budget, as the local authority looks to crack down on schools in deficit.
Current proposals would see schools who have failed to meet the council’s budget recovery plan forced to allow the “task force” to review the budget and staffing structure so it can determine how best to repay the deficit.
However, the proposals, put forward in a new council report, also say any schools requiring the task force intervention could be charged for the service.
In the report on school budgets, West Berkshire Council schools finance manager, Claire White, says: “Many schools in West Berkshire have successfully managed to balance and control their budgets, and have taken action to reduce costs, for which they must be commended.
“Most of the schools in deficit have managed to reduce or repay their deficit in less time than originally planned.
“However, it is evident that some schools don’t take the necessary actions to avoid going into deficit, and it is these schools that need to be identified and targeted for additional support.
“The proposed strategy will hopefully prevent many more schools going into deficit in the future, and ensure that those schools currently in deficit have robust plans to repay the deficit as soon as possible.”
Referring to the action of the task force, Mrs White adds: “The possibility of charging the cost of this back to the school will need to be explored.”
The report highlights a “worrying trend” that the number of schools in deficit is continuing to increase, with 16 per cent of schools recording a deficit in the last financial year.
Last month, the Newbury Weekly News reported how calls had been made for the local authority to crack down on schools that weren’t managing their budgets, with West Berkshire Council now laying out its proposed course of action.
The council is proposing to meet with schools currently in deficit to review and revise their deficit recovery plan.
Nineteen schools at risk of going into deficit will also meet with the council’s senior finance and education staff, as well as HR staff to review their position, which could involve recommendations for school staffing restructuring.
Schools who do not meet their recovery plan would then be forced to accept the “task force”, consisting of senior finance, education and HR staff as well as a former headteacher.
If a school does not then follow the recommendations made by the “task force”, the governing body may be removed and replaced with an interim executive board.