Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Schools Are 'Hoarding' Record Pounds 2.4bn amid Budget Uncertainty: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Schools Are 'Hoarding' Record Pounds 2.4bn amid Budget Uncertainty: News

Article excerpt

Surpluses of Pounds 1m prompt questions over use of pupil premium.

Schools are "hoarding" a record Pounds 2.4 billion of unspent funds, an amount that has soared by more than Pounds 600 million since the coalition government came to power.

Figures released by the Department for Education last week show a 33 per cent rise in money being kept in school bank accounts since 2009-10, despite budgets coming under increasing pressure.

The data also reveal that a handful of schools are sitting on unspent balances of more than Pounds 1 million. This is despite local authorities' power to claw back "excessive" uncommitted balances of more than 5 per cent of annual budgets in secondaries and 8 per cent in primaries.

In Tower Hamlets, East London, several schools have seven-figure surpluses. These include the school with the biggest surplus in the country, Sir John Cass's Foundation and Red Coat School, which has more than Pounds 2 million in the bank. The Church of England secondary received about Pounds 700,000 in pupil premium funding last year, which is supposed to be spent on improving education for children from deprived backgrounds.

Professor John Howson, a research fellow at the University of Oxford and chief executive of Data for Education, who analysed the numbers, said the increase in surpluses among schools in poor areas suggested additional funding from the pupil premium was not being spent.

"In Tower Hamlets, some seven secondary schools have uncommitted balances in excess of Pounds 1 million and six schools increased these balances over the past year," Professor Howson said. "As all of these schools have in excess of 50 per cent (of pupils) on free school meals, it suggests the pupil premium isn't being used at all, let alone effectively."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union the ATL, said schools should be held to account if they built up substantial surpluses. "It is a massive amount of money to be sitting on and this money should be spent on pupils' education," she said. "While it's perfectly legitimate to build up reserves, this level of hoarding should mean schools are held accountable. If they don't show how the money is being spent then they should be forced to give it back."

Per-pupil funding was frozen in 2010 when the coalition came to power, creating a real-terms funding cut for most schools. The DfE has said that it intends to introduce a "fairer" national funding formula, which ministers hope will eliminate historic imbalances in funding between schools with similar characteristics, although its introduction has been delayed.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said it was "imperative" that the government ensured money was going to pupils. …

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