Funding crisis: 13 things school leaders may be forced to cut

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The stark reality of exactly how thousands of school leaders plan to cut frontline provision in light of the funding crisis has been spelt out in new research.

Involving more than 11,000 school leaders, the findings show where the axe is likely to fall in schools if the Department for Education (DfE) does not respond to school leaders’ on-going pleas for increased funding.

The research has been conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which says that as well as the 3% real-terms fall in school funding between 2010 and 2024 as calculated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (Sibieta, 2022), schools are facing “eye-watering” energy bills, “spiralling” costs to resources/supplies driven by record levels of inflation, and having to fund this year’s teacher pay increase from their existing budgets.

The survey asked school leaders what actions they will need to take in the 2023/24 academic year if the funding situation does not improve. Only 2% said they would not need to take any action. The remainder identified the following:

  1. Reducing the number of teaching assistants or TA hours: 66%
  2. Reducing investment in equipment such as IT gear: 58%
  3. Reducing maintenance and/or capital spending: 56%
  4. Reducing investment in CPD: 54%
  5. Reducing the number of teachers or teaching hours: 50% (in addition 52% of the respondents said that senior leaders would be forced to take on additional teaching duties).
  6. Reducing energy consumption: 51%
  7. Reducing non-educational support for children, such as counselling, therapy and mental health support: 47%
  8. Reduce spending on additional, targeted interventions for pupils requiring additional support (such as SEND support): 44
  9. Reducing the number of administration and other non-classroom support staff or working hours: 43%
  10. Using school/MAT reserves: 43%
  11. Reduction in non-contact time for SENCO: 35%
  12. Reducing the size of or restructuring the leadership team: 35%
  13. Reducing the number of children receiving tutoring support via the National Tutoring Programme: 31%

The 2021 spending review set the core schools budget in 2024/25 at £56.8bn, meaning the 3% shortfall cited above comes to £1.8bn. An Education Policy Institute (EPI) analysis says that this equates to £150 per-pupil in primary schools and £200 per-pupil in secondary schools This represents £40,000 for the average primary school budget and around £210,000 in the average secondary (Andrews, 2022).

However, action from the government looks increasingly unlikely given the extent of cost-savings – of £35bn to £50bn – that it is expected chancellor Jeremy Hunt will demand from across government departments.

Appearing on Sky News on Wednesday morning, education secretary Gillian Keegan acknowledged the funding pressures facing schools but refused to be drawn on rumours that the Department for Education will be forced to find 15% savings in the forthcoming comprehensive autumn budget statement on November 17, although she would not confirm that education funding is to be protected.

She said: “I have no doubt that this is really, really a difficult time for headteachers and teachers.”

Similarly, asked the same question during prime minister's questions on Wednesday (November 9), Rishi Sunak refused to be drawn, claiming instead that there has been a "significant increase in funding going into schools over the next two years".

The NAHT survey reveals that 54% of the responding school leaders say their schools will go into deficit this year unless they make further cuts. Only 5% of schools say they will be able to pay their costs next academic year (2023/24) without going into deficit.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Schools are being hit by a perfect storm of costs. In attempting to balance their budgets, school leaders are being faced with eye-watering energy bills, spiralling costs to resources and supplies, and the financial impact of an unfunded pay increase this year.”

The NAHT has more than 34,000 members across early years, primary, special, and secondary schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The respondents to this survey were mainly from primary schools.

However, the findings will ring true across secondary education as well. Indeed, a survey of secondary schools leaders published by the Association of School and College Leaders last week featured similarly stark testimonies from “disillusioned” and “devastated” colleagues laying bare the damage that the current funding crisis is wreaking on student outcomes (ASCL, 2022).

Mr Whiteman continued: “After a decade of austerity, schools have made all the easy savings already. The only things left to cut are things that will have a real immediate impact on children – and especially those who are already the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. This goes against everything school leaders strive for, and the anger and desperation I am hearing from my members is unprecedented.

“Schools are finding that they have no option but to make redundancies. Schools will no longer be able to afford those crucial services that are there to support pupils. Things like in-school mental health services, counselling, and speech and language therapy.

“The responses to this survey represent a significant proportion of the education profession – leaders out there in schools, on the front line, who are seeing the true desperation of the situation at hand. We must see urgent action on education spending ahead of the next Budget update.”

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