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Academies struggling with deficits.

Academies struggling with deficits.

Schools in England are merging into larger academy chains and slashing costs in a bid to manage “unsustainable” deficits, according to an authoritative survey of more than 1,000 academies.

The report by the Kreston academies group found that half of the schools had an operating deficit last year, with only stringent cuts and the sharing of resources within multi-academy trusts (Mats) stopping the figure from being higher.

The group said that while the average deficits at academies fell in 2018 compared with 2017, further spending reductions would be much harder to achieve, and uncertainty was being caused by higher pension contributions, increased teacher pay and crumbling school infrastructure.

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