Around one in three of England’s local authority secondary schools cannot cover their costs, a study has revealed.

The findings from the Education Policy Institute highlights that the proportion of schools with budgets in deficit has nearly quadrupled over the past four years.

The institute says that the average secondary school debt is now running at £483,000 and councils should now consider redistributing financial surpluses from schools to help out struggling schools who are in the same region.

Researchers looked at the accounts that were submitted by academy and maintained schools for 2017/18 and found secondary schools are struggling.

According to their figures, around half of secondary academies as well as 60% of maintained secondary schools, those are schools managed by a local authority, are spending more than they receive and they are then forced to dip into their financial reserves.

However, the Department for Education says 90% of schools across all types are ‘in surplus’.

The latest figures from school budgets

David Laws, is the chairman of the institute and a former education minister, and he says that the latest figures from school budgets highlight a ‘marked deterioration’ and that the government should make it a priority to support schools that are struggling with excessive funding issues.

The institute’s report also highlights that funding levels around England are in trouble and one reason is down to growing numbers of schools struggling to balance their budget but there are also many schools with a surplus budget.

Geoff Barton, the ASCL leader, said that funding levels are ‘unsustainable’ and schools are now approaching a ‘financial cliff edge’ and without adequate funding educational standards will deteriorate.

He added that it is down to prudent financial management for a school to be in surplus and he said: “It’s clear that the current trend of increasing deficits will continue unless action is taken to improve funding levels.”

The National Education Union says school funding is not keeping pace with the increasing cost pressures they are facing.

Also, there are now 326,000 more pupils in the secondary school system since 2015.

Secondary schools are struggling with financial pressures

The survey also reveals that while secondary schools are struggling with financial pressures, there are far fewer primary schools which are struggling with such debts.

The founder of the WorthLess? campaign for fairer school funding, Jules White, said: “Independent analysis confirm, time and time again, what every headteacher knows and that is schools are sliding further into debt, regardless of whether they are academy controlled or local authority controlled.”

The institute also says that the number of special schools under the local authority’s control which are in deficit has doubled to 10% from 5% in five years.

A spokesman for the Department for Education says that across the state school sector, the overall picture is more positive.

He added: “The report shows that nearly 90% of local authority maintained schools and 94% of academy trusts report cumulative surpluses or are breaking even. In 45% of maintained schools, they’ve been able to increase cumulative surplus levels in 2017/18.

“We recognise schools are facing budgeting challenges but the high needs and core schools budget is increasing to £43.5 billion by 2020, from £41 billion in 2017.”