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Thetford Academy planning £1.5m of savings as accounts reveal financial challenges facing some academies

PUBLISHED: 10:31 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:07 09 February 2015

Adrian Ball, executive principal at Thetford Academy, which is planning to make £1.5m of savings.

Adrian Ball, executive principal at Thetford Academy, which is planning to make £1.5m of savings.

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In the third part of a series looking at recently-published accounts of academy schools, education correspondent Martin George looks at the financial challenges some are facing.

Planning for falling rolls

Pupils numbers are a vital component of a school’s funding.

Some sets of accounts highlight risks from increased competition between schools. Norfolk Academies, part of the TEN Group, identified the “strategic risk of competitors in the county, including the introduction of new free schools into Norwich and the conversion of feeder, and other secondary, schools to other academy chains”.

Some other accounts outlined the likely effect of demographics in future years.

Acle Academy’s accounts said risks and uncertainties include “material decrease in income affecting provision” as longer-term plan shows falling pupil numbers.

Its roll fell by 60 students in September 2013, by 15 the following September, with further 20 reduction predicted in 2015. The report warned “falling roll and income will may [sic] require a further staffing adjustment process leading to staff being unsettled”.

Flegg High School’s accounts raise a fall in pupil numbers from 850 to 798.

The report said: “This drop in school numbers was anticipated and is linked to demographics in the area. As the number on roll is projected to continue to fall in the next few years, governors are aware of and have started to plan accordingly, the impact of this on the financial position of the school and on future staffing requirements.”

In contrast, Hellesdon High’s accounts said that in 2013, local demographics indicated there were fewer than 200 student to apply for Year 7 places in September 2014, but it received 250 applications - 25pc from outside the catchment area - and accepted them all as there was spare staff and room capacity because two existing year groups were “significantly below” their planned intake.

Thetford Academy is planning to make £1.5m in savings in the current financial year, on top of £570,000 in 2013-14.

The need to make savings comes because governors identified “the risk of a significant budget gap over the medium term” that governors identified.

Its accounts show the school, which had an income of £7.99m last year, had a deficit of £338,000 - up from £75,000 the previous year.

The academy formally transferred from its previous sponsors to the Inspiration Trust in September 2014.

The Inspiration Trust’s accounts showed its flagship maths and science free school, the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, had a £100,481 deficit, blamed on potential students being deterred by delays securing a permanent location.

Its original application form was based on having 220 students in its first year, but in January 2014 it had 69. The accounts said the new intake for 2014-15 was double that of the first year, “albeit still some way short of capacity”.

Hethersett Academy, which joined Inspiration in November 2013, had a deficit of £35,527, blamed on a falling school roll caused by the period it was in special measures.

Inspiration’s accounts said the remedy for Sir Isaac was to “establish a first-class reputation and increase the roll towards capacity”, while staffing and curriculum changes at Hethersett had been made to revive the reputation of the school.

Great Yarmouth Primary Academy, Norwich Primary Academy, Cromer Academy and the Jane Austen College reported surpluses.

An Inspiration Trust spokesman said: “The accounts show the Inspiration Trust is in good financial health and, as clearly set out on page 39 of the accounts, we have plans in place to deal with deficits, which have mainly been inherited from schools the trust took over or are the result of planning delays impacting recruitment. We always put our pupils and their education first in any plans to deal with deficits.”

The Nicholas Hamond Academy in Swaffham, sponsored by the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT) since November 2012, had a £267,000 deficit.

ATT managing director Joyce Hodgetts said the school joined with a deficit budget, and ATT knew that, because of its investment and new resources, “the academy’s budget would remain a deficit in the short term but would achieve a positive budget in the longer term”.

She said ATT has invested £267,000 of revenue funds into the school by the end of 2013-14, and it received equal resourcing to any other ATT school, and there were already improvements in results, pupil numbers and the buildings.

She added: “Over the time, if the current growth in pupils attending the academy continues, this alone will have a significant and positive effect on its budget.”

Last week’s coverage highlighted financial problems faced by City Academy Norwich, which is sponsored by the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN) Group.

Its accounts report a £461,000 deficit, which a spokesman said was largely due to having to repay two over-paid government grants of £479,000 and £317,000. He added that, excluding the impact of depreciation, the in-year position was £1,000 surplus.

Norfolk’s biggest academy chain puts expansion on hold to concentrate on turning around flagship academy

Financial accounts reveal salaries of principals and leaders of academy chains

Academy accounts help lift the lid on how Norfolk-based academy trusts are developing

Financial accounts reveal how much academy chains charge the schools they sponsor

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