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Kreston Academies Benchmark Report 2018

Welcome to the 2018 Academies Benchmark report.

The last 12 months has continued to see significant change in the sector. Following the General Election we have yet another new Education Secretary, Damien Hinds, a new Under Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew, and new headteacher boards.  Any change in strategic direction will mean more uncertainty for all schools with the current strategy of unlocking talent, fulfilling potential, and putting social mobility at the heart of education policy.

Our report continues to show worrying trends in the sector:

  • Trusts continue to show deficits with a staggering 55% showing an in year deficit before depreciation for year ended 31 August 2017 .
  • The data shows that single academies have seen their funding per pupil fall whilst for MATs it has increased albeit not from non-education sources.
  • Interestingly cash balances have increased from the year ended 31 August 2016 levels, whilst free reserves have fallen. This demonstrates the danger of Trusts using cash as their measure of financial stability.
  • Staff costs have remained steady at 72% of total costs, but there is increasing pressure due to the shortage of teachers and increasing pensions and benefits.

After the general election in 2017 we started to see more movement in the sector with schools being rebrokered and more financial deals being done, including loans, debt write-off and rebrokerage grants.

With a bigger focus in the sector now on Multi Academy Trusts (an increase of more than 25% of academies in a MAT) we have started our report this year with a section looking at MATs and some of the wider issues they face such as the organisation and funding of the central function.

We are also seeing a step change in the way some MATs are run with more of a focus on the business aspects of running a multi-million pound business responsible for significant amounts of public money. However, whilst the accountability framework is robust, we are sadly still seeing Trusts failing, in some cases due to poor financial governance. This cannot continue if the sector wants to retain its independence.

There are some big issues for the sector to address in 2018, and the continuing uncertainty over the national funding formula is increasing the risk of unsustainable deficits. Trusts will need to budget carefully to ensure they remain financially viable.

As the sector grows it will no doubt continue to lobby for fairer funding and a real terms increase in core funding to cover the pressure on salaries. The sector has done much to squeeze costs but this will never be enough to remove the inequality of reserves between Trusts. As the report shows, larger MATs are likely to be able to ride the storm more easily so we will continue to see Trust mergers and rebrokerage of academies to help those in the worst financial position.

Pam Tuckett

Chair of the Kreston Academies Group

Partner and Head of Academies, Bishop Fleming

January 2018