Keep proper journalism alive. It's time to Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Bristol City Council asks government to help with £24m schools deficit

The council’s finance director Denise Murray said there were risks of further increases in the deficit.

Photo: iStock

Bristol City Council is so worried about a growing multi-million black hole in its schools budget that it has written to the government asking for help.

The council expects it will have spent at least £24 million more than it has received from the Department for Education to run schools by the end of March next year. The forecast deficit includes £10 million accrued in 2020/21, and is largely due to spending more than was provided for children with special educational needs.

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning

The shocking state of the council’s education budget was presented to a meeting of school leaders on Tuesday (September 28), where the authority’s finance director Denise Murray was clear about her concerns.

Murray told members of the Bristol Schools Forum the financial position was “worrying” and there was a risk of “further increases” in the deficit. She said she had written to the Department for Education to tell them of the local authority’s concerns, and appeared to say the council has asked for extra funding.

“We’ve sort of set out our stall,” she said. “We’ve explained some of the rationale for why we believe we are seeing the increases [in spending].”

She said the council had “made representations” about funding, with “reference to some of the authorities that have had their legacy deficits supported”. But she warned the council’s ability to “attract additional funding” would almost certainly hinge on whether it can show it can “stabilise” its education spending.

The council is working on a plan to “turn the [spending] curve”, which the government has said it expects to see by the end of 2022/23, she said. 

But the plan relies on a programme launched by the council in March of last year to transform the way Bristol schools educate children with special educational needs. And the council is still waiting to “truly assess” whether the Education Transformation Programme, which includes work required by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission to improve its services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), will eventually “stabilise” education spending, she said.

‘We need to be clearer on the milestones’

“What I think we need to be clearer on is the milestones by when we think we will start to see some of the improvements in the financial position as well as the outcomes,” she said.

The three-year, £6.1 million Education Transformation Programme made “good” progress last year, despite delays as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report to the meeting.

“Significant improvements in the quality of key education and skills data and management information products” were achieved and “eleven transformational projects” were started, according to the report.

These projects included the creation of 190 extra special school places by September 2022, with 80 added so far, and work to improve the statutory process around education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for SEND children. But Simon Holmes, headteacher at St Philip’s Marsh Nursery School and Cashmore Early Years Centre in Barton Hill, said: “There does appear to be some kind of disconnect between the lived experience on the ground for families and what’s happening in schools and what appears to be said about progress that’s being made.

“We know many families who are still really struggling to get heard with this SEND process, with their EHCPs, with the timing. We have families going to solicitors now because they can’t get what they’re needing.”

Murray agreed with Holmes that it was vital for the council to listen to families and incorporate any necessary changes into its transformation programme.

“This should be deemed to be a live document,” she said. “Whilst we’ve agreed a certain set of actions, there should be a feedback loop, and if the feedback indicates we need to change the actions in order to have an appropriate level of impact on outcome then that needs to be part of that process.”

The council received just over £403 million from the Government to run schools in 2021/22.

Early indications are that the ‘dedicated schools grant’ will be around 4% next year, but the final figures will not be available until the Autumn budget is announced on October 27.

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • If Marvin Rees and his over paid incompetent advisors had not a d continue not to waste tax payers money on obviously ridiculous energy scams begging would not be necessary.


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

Listen: Bristol Unpacked, with councillor Christine Townsend on taking on the Merchant Venturers over educational inequality

Green councillor and education rights campaigner Christine Townsend on fighting discriminatory school selection practices and the prospect of taking power in Bristol.

Funding reinstated for SEND charity at heart of council social media spying row

A charity representing parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities, which lost government funding after Bristol City Council withdrew its backing, has had the money restored in a major U-turn.

Progress on Bristol’s SEND failings but relationships with parents still troubled, inspectors find

Report by Ofsted and Care Quality Commission says now up to government to decide next steps, as inquiry into alleged social media spying looms.

Bristol councillors vote for independent inquiry to investigate monitoring of SEND parents

Opposition councillors clashed yet again with the mayor and cabinet member for education Asher Craig over allegations of social media 'spying'.

Charities distance themselves from council review into ‘spying’ on SEND parents’ social media

As councillors prepare to vote on an independent inquiry into alleged online surveillance of parents of children with special educational needs, third parties named in an internal report have challenged the council's narrative.

Council forced to pay out compensation after failing SEND student for months

The teenager missed half a year of speech and language therapy that they should have received.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning