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Council primary schools in deficit rocket 62%

The proportion of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has rocketed 62 per cent in a year, and now stands at its highest level since current records began.

School and council spending data published today by the Department for Education shows the proportion of primaries in deficit rose from 7.6 per cent in 2021-22, to 12.3 per cent in 2022-23.

The rise follows a drop in the proportion of all types of schools with deficits between 2019-20 and 2021-22, resulting from the Covid pandemic.

However, the proportion of primaries in deficit is now higher than 2019-20, and is at its highest level since the current dataset began in 2015.

It comes after Schools Week revealed how a 15-school academy trust will shut after the government decided to strip it of its only secondary, further revealing the “vulnerability” of primaries amid the double whammy of rising costs and falling rolls.

Primary pupil numbers are due to fall by 13 per cent by 2032.

In some areas of England, the situation is far worse than in others. There were 21 council areas with more than a quarter of primary schools in deficit, most of them in London or the south east.

In the London boroughs of Havering and Westminster, and in Brighton and Hove, more than 40 per cent of primary schools have a deficit.

In comparison, there are 17 local authority areas where no primary schools have a deficit, most of them in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, north east or north west.

Income generation has not recovered

Overall, 13 per cent of LA-maintained schools were in deficit last year, up from 9 per cent in 2021-22.

The proportion of LA maintained special schools in deficit rose from 9.8 to 12.9 per cent, but still below the 13.4 per cent seen in 2019-20.

There was also a smaller rise secondaries in deficit – from 12.9 to 13.4 per cent – but this is nowhere near the high of 30.2 per cent in 2017-18.

The DfE said schools had saved money during Covid school closures, while losing self-generated income from lettings and catering.

“As schools returned to more usual ways of working, expenditure increased and although self-generated income is increasing, it is not yet back (in cash terms) to pre pandemic levels.

“In addition expenditure is rising faster than income resulting in more schools having a deficit. Income rose by 3.3 per cent in 2022-23, while expenditure rose by 5.1 per cent.”

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