Methodology

Planned LA and school expenditure

Published

Summary

The Planned Local Authority and School Expenditure publication provides information at national, regional and local authority (LA) level on the financial spending intentions of LAs regarding schools, education and children’s services for the current financial year.

Please note that the figures in this publication are presented in cash terms and have not been adjusted for inflation.

Please note, LAs report their finances using a standard financial year (April to March), while academies report on a financial and academic year of September to August. Since the data relate to different time periods, the two are not directly comparable.

Background information

The majority of local authority (LA) maintained schools' budgets come from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA, an agency of DfE) through the following routes:

  • The Dedicated Schools Grant: Funding to LAs to support maintained schools in their area.
  • Grants paid direct to academy schools. For example the General Annual Grant, and Start Up Grants for academy schools in their opening year.
  • Pupil Premium Payments: Funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, closing the attainment gap between these pupils and their peers.

Other funding streams for LAs include self generated funds from facility and service provision, and through donations.

LAs combine the money they receive from DfE and other funding streams to generate their total budgets for the financial year. They then report their budgets for schools, education and young people's services to the DfE.

Academy schools receive their funding directly from the ESFA, rather than through an LA.

Data sources, collection and processing

Section 251 budget returns

Local authorities (LAs) must report their budgets in a section 251 budget return for schools, education and children’s and young people’s services. This is legislated by Section 251 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and ensures LAs provide financial data in a consistent manner that support comparisons and benchmarking with other LAs. The most recent LA guidance determines the form and content LAs should use in their return, as well as the responsibilities that LAs have towards their publication.

LAs are required to provide their section 251 budget return to the DfE shortly after the start of each financial year (April). All LAs provided a complete Section 251 Budget Return for the 2023-24 financial year. 

Section 251 data processing

Data are loaded directly into the department’s bespoke data collection system; COLLECT (Collections On-Line for Learning, Education, Children and Teachers). 

With 154 LAs providing detailed data of their planned expenditure across a wide range of funding and expenditure categories, the potential for variation in local accounting practices is high.  Therefore section 251 budget data pass through several phases of checking and data cleaning. Budget data loaded into COLLECT are subject to a pre-agreed series of validation checks to aid the submission of accurate data. Extensive guidance and support is provided to LAs during this reporting period. This helps to ensure data are as consistent in format, and as accurate as possible. Following validation, LAs confirm that they are content their data is fit for purpose and the department is able to begin analysis.

Data cleansing and validation occurs between May and August, with the department analysing the data for publication in December.

Additional data sources

For the purposes of better comparability over time, planned spend per capita (per person) is provided where possible. This is based on population figures combined with finance data. Numbers of pupils are sourced from the School Census and numbers of the wider population are sourced from ONS population estimates.

Known data issues

There is one known data issue for the financial year 2021-22.  Analysis of the data for West Northamptonshire showed a potential issue with the data returned in the S251 Budget return. To avoid presenting a misleading picture of the planned spending by this local authority, and prevent inaccurate comparisons with other local authorities,  we have suppressed their data for the affected categories only for 2021-22. The categories affected are: 

  • 2.1.8 Home to post-16 provision transport: mainstream home to post-16 transport expenditure
  • 3.1.2b Fostering services (fees and allowances for LA foster carers)
  • 3.1.10 Asylum seeker services children
  • 3.1.11 Total Children Looked After
  • 3.3.2 Commissioning and Children's Services Strategy

 

There were no data issues in 2022-23. 

There were no data issues in 2023-24. 

Methodology

The data collected each year is added to the existing time series data and used to create the latest data files. No further data is expected to be received from schools and local authorities. The area of spend in the tables is based on the definitions currently used, earlier years have been mapped accordingly.

Per Capita

Wherever possible, statistics are provided showing planned spending per capita (planned spend per person). This makes figures more comparable over time. Per capita figures are derived using the Section 251 Budget data with pupil numbers and/or population estimates, depending on the sub-category of the planned expenditure.

For funding lines that are only targeted at LA maintained school and academy pupils, spending per capita is based on the number of pupils in the relevant school types as reported in the School Census in the January prior to the start of the relevant financial year. This method is consistent with financial benchmarking tables.

For funding lines that cover all children within the LA (regardless of school attended) spending per capita is based on ONS population estimates for children of school age. Where the funding line covers children and young people in a specific age group, e.g. transport provision, the population estimate used relates directly to that age group.   

Recoupment academies

Recoupment is a method of adjusting a dedicated schools grant to take account of the conversion of a LA maintained school into an academy. Since the 2017-18 financial year, this also included new provision academies and free schools from their date of opening. Further information is in the Academies and dedicated schools grant: recoupment guide.

Early years education 

The figures shown under the early years table include funding for base rate, supplements and maintained nursery school lump sums for delivering the Government's entitlement hours only. It includes only the planned total funded hours for the Government's entitlement hours: universal 15 hours and additional 15 hours.

The  SEN inclusion fund budget only includes funding paid directly to providers.

The average funding rate per hour for 3 and 4 year olds  is derived by i) adding the total EYSFF budgets for: base rate; supplements; maintained nursery school lump sums; and SEN inclusion fund (grant to providers element only), and dividing this by ii) the total number of hours reported for: the universal 15 hours and additional 15 hours only. The average funding rate per hour for 2 year olds is derived by i) adding the total 2 year old EYSFF budgets for: base rate; supplements; and SEN inclusion fund (grant to providers element only), and dividing this by ii) the total number of hours reported for 2 year olds.

A handful of local authorities choose to provide extra hours over and above the government-funded entitlement hours for 3-4 year olds. This column shows the budget for extra hours in maintained settings. For PVIs, the budget for extra hours are recorded within central spend category. When the early years national funding formula (EYNFF), was introduced, the change for funding these hours was transitioned from 2019-20. As LAs are adjusting to the new formula the figures in this category show an expected decline. 

High needs places 

High needs funding is intended to provide the most appropriate support package for children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities in a range of settings.  This includes SEN units, special schools, pupil referral units and hospital schools. Special school places are funded at £10,000 per place, apart from hospital schools. Special units and resourced provision in mainstream schools are funded at £6,000 and £10,000 per place respectively. Pupil referral unit places are funded at £10,000. However, it is possible for PRUs to have post-16 places and these may have been funded at different rates. Therefore the total funding may not be exactly divisible by £10,000.

Planned expenditure on high needs places (in addition to the planned spend on high needs from budgets 
retained centrally by local authorities) is affected by the number of schools converting to academy 
status. Since 2015-16 around 4,000 schools have converted to academies (further information can be found here). High needs places funding for academies comes through the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and not via the local authority. The lower numbers of LA maintained schools therefore result in lower high needs planned expenditure from LAs.

Only a few local authorities have maintained hospital schools, but maintained special schools and PRUs can have hospital education places as well, normally in addition to special school and PRU places respectively. Hospital education places are  funded at a local rate per place, rather than a national standard rate.

Changes to the S251 Budget data collection

The data presented in this release consists of a time series from the 2015-16 financial year to 2022-23. Over the years there have been changes to the data items collected. These are summarised below. 

2023-24

The line for carbon reduction commitment allowances (PRUs) (line 1.2.12) has been removed as the scheme has ended. 

2022-23

The line for school improvement was moved from 1.1.10 School improvement for years 2021-22 and earlier, to 1.6.7 School Improvement in 2022-23. 

2020-21

To reduce burden on schools and local authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, S251 budget data were not collected for the 2020/21 financial year, there is therefore a break in the time series. 

2018-19

Information on high needs place funding (line 1.0.2) was introduced as a separate category of planned expenditure in 2018-19.

The category of 3.1.2 Fostering services was split into 3.1.2a Fostering services (excluding fees and allowances for LA foster carers) and 3.1.2b Fostering services (fees and allowances for LA foster carers) from 2018-19 onwards. 

2017-18

The following categories were introduced: 

  • 1.1.10 School improvement
  • 1.2.13 Therapies and other health related services
  • 1.5.2 Asset management
  • 1.5.3 Statutory/ Regulatory duties
  • 1.6.1 Central support services
  • 1.6.2 Education welfare service
  • 1.6.3 Asset Management
  • 1.6.4 Statutory/ Regulatory duties
  • 1.6.5 Premature retirement cost/ Redundancy costs (new provisions)
  • 1.6.6 Monitoring national curriculum assessment
  • 1.7.1 Other Specific Grants.

Symbols used in the data files

z Not applicable: The 'z' symbol is only to be used when an observation is not applicable (e.g. in tables of employment where people under 16 cannot legally be employed)

: Not available: This information has not been collected or there are no estimates available at this level of aggregation.

Low: Where a figure round to zero but is not zero. In the summary tables the figures presented are rounded to £million, “low” in these tables represents a figure of £4,999 or less. 

Rounded figures: Some values in this publication are rounded, therefore totals may not always equal the sum of their parts. Financial data is rounded to the nearest million or billion pounds of expenditure.  Similarly, numbers quote in the text may not always be the same as those shown in the tables. 

Definitions

The definitions of all the Section 251 Budget categories are available within the annual section 251 guidance.

 For definitions of terms used within DfE publications, please see the EES glossary. Some terms used within this publication specifically can also be found below:

Gross figures
  • Actual total estimated costs of activities before allowance for any expected income, but after allowing for any “buyback” income from the local authority’s own schools to avoid double-counting. Both expenditure and income should be excluded where LA maintained schools are buying services.
Income figures
  • Any estimated income the local authority expects to be able to offset against gross expenditure on an activity. This will only include central government grants if they are additional to the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) that is considered as income. Income sources could also include private sources, other LAs’ fees, charges paid by parents (for example meals, music and board/lodging) and lettings.
Net figures 
  • Are calculated by subtracting income from gross figures.
Nominal cash figures
  • Any comparisons of spend over time are made on a nominal cash basis and do not take inflation into account to estimate ‘real terms’ changes.
Per capita
  • Figures presented as an average per pupil or per head of the population (based on age).

How the department uses this information

The Section 251 Budget data supplied by LAs are used in a number of ways within the DfE and its agencies. The main uses are as follows:

  • As the authoritative source for comparisons of LA planning of expenditure and funding for their schools.
  • Enhancing the evidence base used to support the decision-making within the department.
  • As the authoritative source for responding to Parliamentary Questions, Freedom of Information requests and requests for information from other organisations and from the general public.
  • Improving transparency through publication of the annual statistical release.

Further information

Related publications

Local authority and maintained school expenditureExpenditure by LAs and their schools based on Section 251 outturn and Consistent Financial Reporting (CFR) data. This information is published annually each December on Explore Education Statistics.
Academy schools

Academy school budgets are administered by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA); an agency of DfE. ESFA publish data on academy schools’ finances

To support the fulfilment of duties required under the Companies Act, academy schools make academy accounts returns (AAR) to the ESFA that covers income, expenditure and financial position. Information on this can be found in the schools financial benchmarking website (see below). 

Funding, income and expenditure is not directly comparable between academies and LA maintained schools for a number of reasons:

  • LA maintained schools plan and spend within a financial year period of April to March. Academies work to an academic year of September to August.
  • Academies may receive start-up grants during their opening year.
  • Early years funding will generally not be included within academy budgets.
  • Academy rates are paid for on receipt by ESFA, therefore the position at time of reporting data is not always fully developed.
  • Academies have responsibilities that LA maintained schools do not, particularly around services previously provided by the LA (for example library services, behavioural support services and audit costs) and maintenance of capital assets. This can affect what the academy spends its funding on, meaning that an academy, by its nature, is likely to have a different pattern of spend than a maintained school.
Schools financial benchmarkingIndividual schools and academy trusts financial data can be viewed and compared to other similar locations at the schools financial benchmarking website.
Guidance on funding arrangementsThe ESFA publish information about funding arrangements for schools  that explains how school and LA funding is calculated.
Want previously published figures?

Figures for financial years 2010-11 to 2019-20 are available on the departmental statistics website.

To reduce burden on schools and local authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Section 251 budgets were not collected for the 2020-21 financial year and there was therefore no publication of this information.

Want data for Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?

This publication only relates to England local authorities and schools. Education in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is a devolved matter for the relevant governments. For information relating to these countries, contact the departments below or access their statistics at the following links:

Wales: school.stats@wales.gsi.gov.uk  |  Local authority budgeted expenditure on schools | GOV.WALES

 Scotland: school.stats@scotland.gsi.gov.uk  |  Statistics and research - gov.scot

Northern Ireland: statistics@deni.gov.uk  |  Department of Education (education-ni.gov.uk)

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If you have a specific enquiry about Planned LA and school expenditure statistics and data:

Pupil and school finance data team

Email: finance.statistics@education.gov.uk
Contact name: Julie Glenndenning
Telephone: 07887 290 512

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