To receive and consider a verbal report outlining the process of school budget setting and funding allocation.
The Committee considered a verbal report by Alan Stubbersfield, Interim Assistant Director Learning and Achievement, outlining the process of school budget setting and funding allocation.
Members were advised that the schools’ budget was set by Schools Forum, which was an advisory body composed by a proportional number of representatives including: primary headteachers; secondary headteachers; Academies and Free Schools headteachers; Special Schools headteachers; governors and non-schools representatives. Schools Forum would discuss and make decisions on the school’s finances, culminating with the submission of the budget every year.
It was explained that KS4 pupils cost more than KS3 and KS2 pupils due to a number of reasons, including: higher number of teachers; bigger premises; extended school resources and exam related costs.
Currently there was considerable pressure on the budget due to having to fund the new secondary school. It was noted that there was a time lag issue in that the new school would only receive pupil funding once it was open and this was directly related to the number of pupils admitted in the school. However, the costs of setting up the school, for example employing the leadership team, would occur before the school had an income to cover it. This was causing controversy at the Schools Forum and headteachers were generally concerned about the effect on their budgets.
It was mentioned that the Council had a statutory obligation to meet the demand for school places for Wokingham children. It was recognised that to meet this demand it was necessary to have this new secondary school to ensure there were enough school places in the coming years. It was important to have transparency in the process for dealing with the deficit which was forecast for the next two years. The calculations were complex and it was imperative to have discussions in advance so that future shortfalls did not come as a surprise.
In discussing the item, the following points were made:
· It would be interesting to know what percentage of the deficit was directly related to the new school;
· It was envisaged that with the new secondary school, schools would be competing for pupils;
· Costs for the new school had to be met locally, however some of the costs would be absorbed by all schools;
· It was noted that the 30 hour increase in the Early Years provision had added pressure to the system but was not the main reason for the predicted deficit;
· There was concern that the schools’ performance and improvement could be affected by cuts in funding. It was mentioned that Wokingham was the lowest funded Local Authority in the country and that Charlotte Haitham Taylor was lobbying with John Redwood to try and improve this situation;
· The scrutiny process was valued as it encouraged headteachers and governors to be transparent, efficient and to learn from one another. It was important to be conscious of the challenges ahead;
· In reply to a question about training, Officers stated that Headteachers or their representatives were invited to attend a finance conference twice a year which was helpful for their understanding of budgeting. It was noted that most schools had bursars;
· Schools Forum were modelling a five year strategy in which they were now regularly reviewing, planning and forecasting for the next five years;
· The Committee was reassured that the School Finance Officer reviewed and had to sign off when a school went into a deficit position. Although schools could make their own financial decisions within their budgets they were accountable to the Council. It was noted that the Council had limited powers to influence Academies and Free Schools;
· Once the new school started to receive funding for its pupils the situation would be alleviated;
· Members enquired about the possibility of borrowing money to support schools during this challenging period. It was suggested that Graham Ebers, Chief Finance Officer be invited to attend the next meeting to discuss this idea with the Committee. The Committee asked that they receive a written report containing possible solutions and different ways of borrowing prior to the meeting;
· In previous years the school’s budget had been set without major problems, so headteachers were not used to these sort of challenges, but had now accepted that all schools and academies were required to find savings;
1) Graham Ebers be invited to attend the next meeting to discuss the possibility of borrowing money, rate options and his views on finding a solution to the deficit;
2) an update report be provided to the next meeting.