The education sector in the United Kingdom is not at its best amidst political disharmony and economic uncertainty. About 1 in 10 schools in England have begun reporting rising deficits posing challenges to teaching and future of the students. This is a rather grave concern as private schools provide the foundation, training and threshold to enter the real world and prepare the children for university entrance exams. The situation isn’t new, and the issue has been considerable since few years.
According to the figures released by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) for school balances in England, over a third of local authority maintained secondary schools are in deficit, similar to the plight of Yorkshire education where one in seven maintained schools in the region have been struggling to maintain sufficient funds. In the past two years, the financial pressures have left deficits amounting to more than EUR30 million as per the report in Yorkshire and an absolute high of EUR233 million across England.
At the secondary level, the financial pressure is high, and schools are expressing concern over how to ease the same. In 2016-17, the proportion of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit increased sharply, to 7.1 per cent while the proportion of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, rising to 26.1% over the four years preceding to that.
The data revealed that the schools are spending more than their income. A possible reason behind the ongoing trend could be that the staffing levels in secondary schools have gone up in response to increasing number of students.
Meanwhile, there are certain schools maintaining financial surpluses. Now, the challenge for the government, local authorities, and school leaders is to figure out policies or guidelines to redistribute the finances across the sector and provide a level-playing field.
As an alternate course of action, the EPI in its recommendations to the Government, has suggested to analyse if at all the schools need additional advisory on how to efficiently save ahead of contingencies before reconsidering the spending provisions. This is a rather beneficial advice as there could be lessons to learn from the school that are more successful at keeping up with their finances.
The schools have also been deploying various measures to dealing with cost burdens. These include increased amount of teaching by senior staff, bigger class sizes, and collaborating with other schools to achieve economies of scale. Some are reportedly planning to replace more experienced, higher-paid teachers with younger, less demanding recruits on temporary contracts, encouraging staff to take up multiple disciplines as well cutting on use of energy and consumables.
Even so, such strategies may come at the expense of deteriorating quality of education. Thus, the Department of Education in the United Kingdom along with the educational institutions needs to broadly assess the most appropriate management policies and measures in face of worsening financial health without compromising on basic attributes of exemplary education standards in the UK.
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