West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Deficit Schools and the Impact of Covid-19 on School Budgets (Melanie Ellis)

Minutes:

Melanie Ellis introduced the report (Agenda Item 14a), which provided details on the schools in deficit as set out in 1.1 of the report.  Melanie Ellis reported that there were increased numbers of schools forecasting large deficits.

Melanie Ellis reported that the table under section 6.1 of the report provided a summary of the schools that had predicted deficit forecasts for 2021/22 and 2022/23.

Melanie Ellis moved on to the report on page 103 of the report (Agenda Item 14b), which looked at the impact of Covid-19 on schools budgets, which was significant.  In order the gauge the impact on schools the Schools’ Accountancy Team had written to 59 schools asking them to submit their P6 budget monitoring forecasting for their main school budget and for their out of ours provision, if applicable. 51 schools had responded in total.

Melanie Ellis explained that31 maintained schools operated out of hours provision and 29 of these schools had submitted a P6 year end forecast. 23 of the schools had reported a reduction in their forecasted year end position, 13 of whom forecast to end the year in a deficit position based on the impact on out of hours provision.

In July 2020 schools had been able to claim for exceptional costs arising as a result of Covid-19 however, conditions and criteria set for this funding were stringent and restrictive. Melanie Ellis reported that an option for consideration was whether the unforeseen costs incurred to manage Covid-19, together with loss of income, could be considered as a reasonable use of the Schools in Financial Difficulty Fund (SFDF) for schools facing an unplanned deficit in 2020/21. The data on end of year positions would not be available until May 2021 and Melanie Ellis proposed that a further report was taken to the HFG at this time for consideration.

Ian Pearson added that the DfE had recently indicated that they intended on moving the census point for when they would be calculating Free School Meals (FSM). Normally this would be calculated based on the January census however, it was being moved back to October.  By moving back to October it meant that there was a five to six month period between the funding being calculated and being received by schools. In light of Covid-19, it was likely there would be an increase in children requiring FSM between October and April and therefore this could result in schools not receiving Pupil Premium Funding that they otherwise would have received. This change to the census could have a negative impact on school budgets going forward.

Avril Allenby added to the comments from Ian Pearson and reported that she had checked numbers and early years had seen a month on month increase of about 50 pupils applying for FSM.  Therefore there had been a significant increase in children since the October census.

Hilary Latimer reported that Andy Higgs the Chairman of the Primary Headteachers Association had been asked which schools would be missing out on funding as a result of the change. A number of schools had voiced concern regarding the number of additional pupils that would have been eligible for the Pupil Premium Grant funding if the January census had been used.

Catie Colston reported that she had not previously appreciated the impact of the information and would be interested to hear any feedback as a result of discussions. The issue being faced would also apply to other local authorities and therefore was not a localised issue. Ian Pearson reported that a discussion would be taking place with the DfE that week on the matter regarding the consequences of the decision.

RESOLVED that

·         Ian Pearson would feedback to the Forum regarding discussion with the DfE on matter of schools missing out of funding for Free School Meals.

·         Melanie Ellis would bring a report to the HFG after May 2021 to give consideration as to whether the unforeseeable costs incurred to manage Covid-19, together with the loss of income, could be considered as reasonable use of the SFDF.   

Supporting documents: