[To receive an update on individual school balances and challenge schools with high balances.]
Debra Boniface, Finance Manager presented the Individual School Balances 2018 – 2019 report and highlighted key points. The report provided a breakdown of the levels of balances held by maintained schools as at 31 March 2019 and sought to inform Schools’ Forum of the challenges around schools holding high balances.
It was clarified that schools holding high excess balances for five or more years were challenged by the Council and required to provide plans on how that money would be allocated. If the plans were considered to be robust, they would be tracked and desktop monitored by Local Authority officers. If the plans required more information, the plans would be discussed further with the head teacher of the school. If considered appropriate, the matter would then be presented to the Arbitration Panel with a possible view to clawing back the unallocated funds.
It was noted that deficit balances were also monitored very closely by a sub-group known as Schools in Financial Risk (SFR). The report provided information on the schools holding a deficit balance and outlined the current status of each case and steps taken to manage it.
It was clarified that there were tight processes in place to ensure that a deficit balance didn’t continue to grow prior to a school’s conversion to an academy. It was reported that a dedicated finance team had been established to provide desktop monitoring to track progress.
It was noted that the data contained within Appendix 1 showed the balance for each Wolverhampton school over a period of three academic years. It was clarified that the figures represented was pre-consistent financial reporting (CFR) validated data.
It was clarified that a system wide approach had been adopted to curb growing deficits. It was noted that early warning was key and the Authority had made great progress into working and communicating with schools to mitigate risks.
It was noted that the DfE had introduced the Local Authority Analysis (LAA) Tool which they use to assign a category to each maintained school from A to G. The DfE raise challenge to the LA for any school falling into the F or G category.
It was confirmed that it had been F and G ratings that had triggered the recent SRMA visits, although the LA had had the final decision on which schools were selected.
In response to a query regarding schools with challenging budgets, it was confirmed that support was offered by the Authority.
In response to a query in respect of correlation between capping and the funding formula, it was outlined that a link had not been found as yet but as it was too early in the introduction of changes to the funding formula and the complexity of the formula meant that this was difficult to map as yet.