Update on Council funding for schools
- Meeting of Education, Youth & Culture Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Thursday, 18th March, 2021 2.00 pm (Item 45.)
- View the background to item 45.
(a) That the Committee support the principles as the basis for allocating the £1m additional funding to reduce deficits in secondary schools in 2021/22, as set out within the report;
(b) That the allocations, as set out in Appendix 2 of the report, be noted; and
(c) That the Committee support the Council’s intent to raise the amount of funding to schools year on year, in line with the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).
The Chief Executive introduced a report to outline to the Committee the proposal for distributing the additional £1m allocated to secondary schools in the 2021/22 budget. Because of the timing and purpose of the funding, the Council will allocate the funding in 2021/22 as a supplementary allocation.
The Estyn inspection of the Local Authority in 2019 raised concerns about the long term nature of deficit budgets in certain secondary schools, and as part of their inspection report, a key recommendation was that the Authority took steps to address the deficits. The additional funding in the budget was primarily to provide additional resource to those schools in financial difficulty.
The Chief Executive explained that there had been no funding solution available to deal with the deficits, but by working hard to set the 2021/22 budget, together with investigating the opportunities within the Welsh Government (WG) WG settlement to realign additional funding to Schools, a solution had been reached to provide additional funding to secondary schools. Explaining the way in which the funding had been allocated, he commented on the concerns which had been received by some Headteachers and School Governors. He advised that it was acknowledged by the Authority that in recent years secondary schools in general had experienced pressure on budget, and therefore, a proportion of the funding would go to those schools which had not met the principles, as set out in the report.
The Leader of the Council spoke in support of the comments made by the Chief Executive and advised that the proposed additional funding had been fully supported by the County Council. He commented on the challenging position schools had faced due to austerity but said that young people across Flintshire had the right to access a broad and balanced curriculum.
The Chief Officer (Education and Youth) added that young people in schools across Flintshire should not suffer because of a variety of very complex factors which had led to the deficits being accrued. She provided a detailed explanation of the allocation principles, as outlined within the report, which had included deprivation factors. Additional funding was also being provided to school from WG which would continue for the next financial year. Whilst this was welcomed, she commented on the importance of the Council maximising its Council budget to assist in addressing school deficits.
The Chair invited Mr. Jim Connelly, Head of Flint High School, who was in attendance, to comment on the proposal.
Mr Jim Connelly thanked the Chair for the opportunity to attend the meeting and address the Committee. He welcomed the comments made by the Chief Executive, Leader and Chief Officer, which he said had provided some rationale behind the proposal and said that had the Secondary Heads Federation received this information beforehand it would had alleviated some of the concerns. He asked that the consultation process be improved in the future and commented on the difficult decisions which had been made by all schools across Flintshire, due to austerity and a reduction in school budgets. He said that he fully understood that the Council had tried to provide schools across Flintshire with as much funding as possible but was concerned that providing additional funding to address the deficits could set a dangerous precedent for schools in the future in managing those deficits.
Councillor Dave Mackie commented on how the additional funding to address secondary school deficits had been calculated and said that there was concern around how this funding would continue in the future. He stated that if the funding continued, two of the schools would clear their deficits relatively quickly but the other schools would continue to need additional funding for a number of years. He explained that this was an assumption, as this had not been addressed within the report. He added that all schools across Flintshire should be recognised for working hard to address their deficits and remain within their allocated budgets and recognised that Flintshire continued to be an underfunded Council. He supported consistent allocation of funding and suggested that this be considered as part of the school funding formula. He also felt that the views of Secondary Headteachers should be considered when reviewing secondary school funding in the future.
The Chair commented that the proposal would be discussed at the forthcoming School Budget Forum meeting. He welcomed the Chief Executive’s clarification around equity and that the objective was to address the deficit with notional amounts afforded to schools. He added that all schools were under significant pressure and that it was gratifying that the Council was able to provide additional funding to address the deficit. He referred to the underfunding of Councils and the comments made by the Chief Executive that there should be a minimum allocations which enabled Councils to provide their services and also a top up allocation to meet the needs of deprivation etc. and if that were the case it should be that a bare minimum was allocated to each school and top up thereafter.
The Leader said that from an equity point of view he did not believe that the size and viability of a school should matter when it came to the educational offer that was provided to children across Flintshire. He advised that school deficits had been subject to a great deal of scrutiny and referred to the work undertaken by himself and Chief Officers, together with the finance team to consider all options to resolve this. He reiterated his previous comments and said that Members had been right to take the decision at County Council to ensure every child received access to the same basic curriculum offer.
The Chief Executive, in response to the comments made by Mr. Connolly, said that he did not want a situation where schools were being pitched against each other. He appreciated all of the work undertaken by Headteachers and staff to balance budgets and to try and reduce their deficits. In response to the comments made by Councillor Mackie, he explained that if the additional funding had been spread across all Schools there would be no impact on the reduction of School deficits. On increasing the spend per pupils, he added that it was not possible to confirm what WG settlements would be in the future, but that the Council would continue to make the case that better funding was required to meet the challenge of addressing School deficits.
The Chair thanked the Chief Executive for his comments and said that he greatly appreciated the additional funding for schools which would be highly beneficial. He said that whilst he believed every effort had been made by the Council over a number of years to maintain school budgets, the education budget had been cut by 2% back in 1997 and that this funding had never been returned.
The Chief Officer responded to comments around consultation, and said that during a meeting with the Head Teachers Secondary Heads Federation, it was acknowledged that communication around the proposal to provide additional funding could have been better, but commented on the positive and transparent relationship with Head Teachers and colleagues. She reported on the robust process for supporting schools that were in a deficit position and that the Council had further strengthened the licensed deficit protocol in the light of the Estyn recommendations. She said there were a significant number of factors over a long period of time which had resulted in those deficit positions and that Headteachers had worked really hard to try and manage those.
In response to comments around challenge and scrutiny, the Chief Officer said that she welcomed the challenge from the Committee.
Councillor Tudor Jones sought clarification that the additional funding was not going directly to Schools, but was being used to reduce the deficits that sit with the Council. He suggested changing the wording in recommendation (a) to “That the Committee support the principles as the basis for allocating the £1m additional funding to reduce deficits of secondary schools in 2021/22, as set out within the report. The Chief Executive thanked Councillor Jones for the helpful clarification. He sought a steer from the Committee in terms of future steps year on year in the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) which was currently being reviewed, in order to make a case for similar investments year on year, providing the settlement from WG allowed this to occur.
The Chair thanked officers for their attendance and answering the questions from the Committee. He suggested that the Committee write to Mrs. Lucy Morris who had recently retired from the Council, to thank her for the support she had provided to schools during financial challenging times, and also the support she had provided to the Committee. This suggestion was supported by the Committee.
Following discussion, the recommendations outlined within the report, together with the suggested amendment to recommendation 1, as suggested by Councillor Tudor Jones and with the following additional recommendation, were moved and seconded by Councillors Tudor Jones and Gladys Healey:-
· That the Committee support the Council’s intent to raise the amount of funding to support schools year on year, in line with the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).
(a) That the Committee support the principles as the basis for allocating the £1m additional funding to reduce deficits of secondary schools in 2021/22, on the basis as set out within the report;
(b) That the allocations, as set out in Appendix 2 of the report, be noted; and
(c) That the Committee support the Council’s intent to raise the amount of funding to support schools year on year, in line with the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).
- Update on Welsh Government funding for schools, item 45. PDF 109 KB
- Appendix 1 - Secondary School Year End Balances, item 45. PDF 74 KB
- Appendix 2 - Supplementary Allocations 2021/22, item 45. PDF 49 KB