Number of St Helens schools projecting deficit budgets

Schools have to get approval from the council to set a deficit budget, which would also require a recovery plan to ensure the deficit is brought back into balance.
Schools have to get approval from the council to set a deficit budget, which would also require a recovery plan to ensure the deficit is brought back into balance.

A "significant" number of schools in St Helens are projecting deficit budgets for the upcoming financial year, a senior council officer has revealed.


The issue of schools going into deficit has been raised numerous times by teachers and councillors in the last 12 months.

In June, Labour’s Dennis McDonnell claimed “dozens” of schools were preparing to set a deficit budget for 2019-20.

While exact numbers are still not known, the claims were backed up this week by Greg Tyrer, St Helens Council’s head of finance, systems support and procurement.

Mr Tyrer said the council will have a clearer picture in December when it finds out how much it will receive following the announcement in the government’s recent spending review that it will boost school funding by £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

Mr Tyrer, who works closely with schools, was quizzed by councillors at the children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel,

He was asked by Coun McDonnell whether the national funding formula, the methodology used by the government to calculate school funding, was currently working.

Mr Tyrer said: “It’s a difficult one to answer in this point in time because that will be dependent on the December settlement and the way the extra money comes through to local authorities.

“Obviously I wouldn’t name any schools at this point in time, but we do have currently a significant number of schools with a potential budget deficit for the next financial year.

“Now I would hope that will change on the basis of costs move this financial year and then how we see the extra money coming through.

“But it is obviously a concern and what we’ve seen over recent years is a higher proportion of schools with a projected deficit in the upcoming financial year.

“The good news in some respects is we didn’t have one school in the current financial year that set a deficit budget.”

The national funding formula, which aims to address historic disparities in funding between local areas, was initially launched in England in 2018-19.

This national formula is used to calculate the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), the main source of funding schools receives.

Once a local authority has received its DSG allocation for the financial year, a local school funding formula is then applied at a local level to calculate individual settlements for each school in the area.

The government’s ultimate aim is to phase out local authority school funding formulae and use the national funding formula to determine every school’s budget share.

A definitive date for this has not yet been confirmed but it is not expected to be until after the financial year 2020-21.

Mr Tyrer said pupil numbers are “by far” the driving factor in the amount of money each school receives and said this will continue to be the case under the current arrangements.

The annual head count that will determine 2019-20 funding will take place on October 19.

Mr Tyrer told councillors schools have to get approval from the council to set a deficit budget, which would also require a recovery plan to ensure the deficit is brought back into balance.

He added: “I don’t have any specific figures at the moment but on the face of it as we speak there are significant number of schools with a projected deficit, but we need to see first how the additional funding works through.”