Future generations will pay the price for “consistent underfunding” of education, politicians have warned, as it emerges one in 10 maintained schools in Leeds are struggling to balance the books.
Analysis by the Yorkshire Evening Post, looking in-depth at rising debts, has found school deficits in the city have more than trebled in the past two years, the latest reports totalling more than £5.4m.
The findings have sparked concern, amid warnings that urgent funding is needed from central Government to reverse a worsening trend.
“It is absolutely disgraceful that the Government is consistently underfunding education and it is future generations who will pay the price,” warned Coun Jonathan Pryor, executive member for learning, skills and employment at Leeds City Council.
The analysis, based on the latest figures published by in December the Department for Education, consider budget balances for maintained schools - those run by the council rather than academies.
Of 230 schools, 23 are in the red, including 14 primary schools and eight secondaries - almost half of all those maintained by Leeds City Council.
The analysis shows a worrying picture of rising debt, from £1.58m in 2015.16 to £5.4m at the end of March this year.
Across the region, there are wide differences in deficit rates, sparking concern from some over a “historic and unfair postcode lottery of school funding”.
Some of the greatest numbers of schools seen to be in the red were in North Yorkshire, at a rate of nearly one in five. Authorities here have lobbied the Department for Education for fairer funding, arguing over a “one size fits all approach” when it comes to more remote communities.
In Wakefield, by comparison, nine per cent of schools reported deficits, while in Bradford that figure was 7.5 per cent.
“The Labour Administration in Leeds made the political decision to retain school improvement services and our Children’s Centres, despite cuts of over £250m to Leeds City Council,” added Coun Pryor.
“This demonstrates our commitment to supporting education across the city, what we and the children of Leeds desperately need now is proper funding from Central Government.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was “astonishing” that these are the Government’s own figures, showing that more schools are in debt than last year and that the size of the debt is growing.
“Yet still they do nothing about the woeful lack of funding given to our schools and colleges,” she said. “This debt is being incurred despite schools taking desperate measure to balance the books such as making thousands of teachers and teaching assistants redundant, increasing class sizes, cutting subject choices, and leaving essential building repairs undone. Ministers must face the facts and stop pretending all is well.”
An estimated 2,000 headteachers nationwide marched on Downing Street last September to campaign for additional funding, with research by the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) showing that almost three-quarters of school leaders expect they will be unable to balance the books in the next financial year.
“Children and young people get one chance at education,” added Ms Bousted. “It must not be ruined by this short-sighted policy of deliberate underfunding.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “School funding will rise to a record £43.5bn by 2020 – 50 per cent more in real terms per pupil than in 2000.”
There have been many improvements in schools over recent years, they add.
“However, we know that we are asking schools to do more, which is why the Education Secretary has set out his determination to work with the sector to help schools reduce the £10bn they spend on non-staffing costs and ensure every pound is spent as effectively as possible to give children a great education.”