A GROUP that oversees the education of thousands of schoolchildren could slip into ‘unsustainable’ financial deficit within years.

Faringdon Academy of Schools has admitted it is struggling amid the school funding crisis, which could threaten its future if cuts are not made.

The multi-academy trust runs eight schools in and near the town, including outstanding-rated Faringdon Community College, a 1,200-pupil secondary.

According to its latest accounts it had total funds of more than £22m in 2018 – £4.5m up on 2017 - but predicts it will be running in-year deficits by 2021.

The report, published on Companies House, state: “Whilst costs continue to grow, our income remains flat and has actually reduced during 2017/18.

“Base level funding does not provide the necessary uplift to meet rising staff costs, with very little staff movement over the trust, it has an experienced and more costly workforce.

“At present our five-year plan indicates that the trust will face unsustainable in-year deficits from AY [assessment year] 2021.”

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A spokesperson for the trust stressed that its situation 'is no different to other schools and trusts across the country.'

The accounts cited loss of the Education Services Grant, government cash that was scrapped in 2017, and the new National Funding Formula for schools, as key reasons as well as the need for urgent building works.

The document states that the trust has ‘£2.79m of urgent works required over the next five years’ and that it bid for £1.1m of grants in the last financial year, but only secured £249k.

The report added that trustees have ‘total commitment’ to school improvement despite an ‘extremely challenging financial climate’, however, and will continue planning ahead to meet the challenges.

The trust oversees: Faringdon Community College, Faringdon Infant School, Faringdon Junior School, Buckland Church of England Primary School, Longcot and Fernham Church of England Primary School, Shrivenham Church of England Controlled School, Watchfield Primary School and John Blandy Primary School.

Buckland and Longcot and Fernham achieved some of the best Key Stage 2 results in the entire country last year, and both are rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted, as is the community college.

The trust has plans including: the relocation and expansion of Faringdon Infant School in 2021, expansion of John Blandy Primary School, and an ‘urgent project’ to replace eight temporary classrooms at Faringdon Community College, which it said are almost 30 years old and ‘well beyond economic use.’

Its report also highlighted a ‘major structural failure’ at Faringdon Junior School, in which a four-classroom block collapsed in September 2017, which is still out of bounds.

Herald Series:

A fenced-off area at Faringdon Junior School, which requires repairs.

Displaced pupils have been relocated to temporary classrooms, which have taken up much of the playground.

Of the condemned classroom block, the accounts state: “This remains a concern to trustees and carries considerable financial risk with costs amounting to £121k during 2017/18.

“We are working with Oxfordshire County Council to resolve these issues.”

Faringdon Community College received £5m from the county council in 2017-18, according to the report, for a new 25-classroom block that allowed it to expand its pupil intake.

The accounts revealed that the trust had been in ‘informal discussions’ to merge with Eynsham Partnership Academy, which runs seven schools including Bartholomew School in Eynsham, but said this had been put on hold for now.

Faringdon parent Lesley Hunt, whose two sons attend Faringdon Junior School, called for the trust to be more proactive and come up with ‘innovative’ solutions.

The chartered engineer said: “I have sympathy but they are not unique in living in austerity in the public sector – I want them to stop whining about it and start handling the problem.”

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She said she was frustrated that the unsafe block at the school is yet to be rebuilt more than a year and a half after its collapse, adding: “My children are stuck in a derelict limbo, spending their school careers on a construction site.”

A spokesperson for the trust said: "Faringdon Academy of Schools is no different to other schools and trusts across the country.

"We are facing significant rises in staffing costs whilst also seeing substantial rises in pupil numbers across the trust.

"The lag between additional pupil funding and the costs related to the need for additional staffing creates further financial challenges."

She added that the trust is 'committed to being efficient and effective' and had already implemented strategies to get the best value from resources and funding.