School budget report
Flintshire County Council's Education and Youth Overview and Scrutiny Committee will consider the feasibility of a â€˜cash flat' settlement to schools.
A â€˜cash flat' settlement means that schools will receive the same level of funding as they did last year with no uplift to help contribute to the funding of cost pressures such as pay awards for staff and the increasing costs of energy, goods and services. Whilst the central educational budget within the Council has been reduced by 30% over the last three years in response to ongoing austerity for local government services, delegated budgets to schools have not been subject to the significant efficiency measures and have largely protected.
The estimated Budget gap to be found by the Council for 2018/19 is over £13m. Through Stages 1 and 2 of the Budget setting process the Council has identified proposals to move closer towards balancing its budget. This has been a major challenge and Stage 3 of the process is still to go. There is no scope in the budget considerations to offer schools any uplift in their budgets.
In previous years, the Council has been able to meet Ministerial recommendations to provide a small uplift to schools' delegated budget to help with rising inflationary pressures and provide some protection to front line education services. However, with the current financial situation, elected members are having to consider all remaining options to try and meet the legal requirement to set a balanced budget.
The Council and our education community continue to appeal to Ministers in the Welsh and UK Governments to consider the impact of ongoing austerity on the delivery of local education services and acknowledge the significant workforce costs that changes to pensions and National Insurance have created. The Council continues to demand that future pay awards should be funding in full over and above a â€˜cash flat' settlement, and that assurances are received that any new legislative and policy commitments originated by Welsh Government or Central Government will be funded in full.
With the vast majority of any school budget dedicated to staffing costs it is not surprising that there has been an increase in redundancies within schools. Whilst this saves money, it also creates potential risks, for example, a reduction in the range, quality and breadth of the curriculum on offer, a reduction in the levels of academic support and pastoral intervention for vulnerable pupils and possibly an increase in class sizes.
Despite schools having worked hard to ensure maximum efficiencies over the past three years, 7 of the 11 secondary schools in Flintshire are in a deficit budget situation and this is expected to increase. Head teachers are already reporting high levels of stress as the impact of funding reductions takes its toll.
Flintshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Education and Youth, Councillor Ian Roberts said:
"The Council is faced with major financial challenges and is having to make some very difficult choices about how to allocate its limited funding and how to find more savings to achieve a legally balanced budget.
"Setting a â€˜cash flat' budget for schools makes a significant contribution to closing the budget gap but is not without major risks to the sustainability of quality education services in Flintshire. Such a decision will impact all schools but will be particularly challenging to those whose current budgetary situation is less resilient than others.
"Schools have been proactive in adjusting to reducing funding levels whilst focusing on maintaining the delivery of a quality curriculum and improving learner outcomes. Performance at Foundation Phase, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 is currently at or better than expected levels and Key Stage 4, while still below expected levels, has seen improvement in 2017 in spite of the financial challenges.
"There are few mitigations to protect schools from the impact of a â€˜cash flat' settlement following on from a number of lean years in educational funding. There either has to be a reversal of the national policy on austerity or schools will need to go even further in making local efficiencies."