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Looming financial crisis for West Berkshire schools

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Shortfall predicted to reach more than £6m in just two years

A financial crisis for West Berkshire schools, which will impact teaching and learning, is looming after new figures revealed a predicted deficit of more than £6m.

Stark figures released this week show that two thirds of schools across the district are expected to report a budget deficit by 2018/19.

The predicted shortfall for the 74 primary, secondary and special schools amounts to £6,230,745.

Every maintained secondary school in West Berkshire is expected to be in the red with a budget deficit totalling £2,778,833 alone.

A report prepared by the council’s schools finance manager, Claire White, said: “If schools take no action a significant overall deficit would occur.

“The increase in numbers shows it is becoming more difficult for schools to balance their budgets without making any changes to their operation.”

The report goes on: “It was noted how increasingly difficult it is to set a balanced budget without it having a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning pupils receive.”

And the picture is no less bleak for the current financial year with eight schools setting a negative balance – John O’Gaunt, Beenham, Hampstead Norreys, John Rankin, Purley, Spurcroft, Sulhamstead and Ufton Nervet and Westwood Farm schools.

Claire White said: “The West Berkshire Council schools finance team are currently reviewing the deficit recovery plans for each school.”

John O’Gaunt School, which recently announced it is to convert to an academy, is forecasted to carry the greatest deficit by 2018/19 of more than £1.5m. This year it will be £1,185,065.

Responding to the figures, West Berkshire Council’s executive member for education, Dominic Boeck, said: “These forecast figures need to be taken with a health warning. Historically, schools have predicted large deficits in future years as part of a worst case scenario, but work with them has, in the main, prevented this happening, our data illustrates this.

“However, future school funding remains uncertain until the DfE provide greater clarity of their plans for a new national schools’ funding formula.

“One thing is clear however which is that West Berkshire is funded below the national average and that does not seem fair or equitable.”

He added: “When it comes to it, most schools will set a balanced budget prior to the year in question, but this will usually require making some cuts to teaching and learning as costs are rising and funding is remaining static.

“I am currently lobbying government with our local MP to change the funding formula.”

The shortfall will be discussed at the Schools Forum tonight [Monday] at 5pm at Newbury’s Shaw House.

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