Schools warn of more cuts to come as budget pressures bite

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

Funding pressures are forcing schools to cut back on CPD, teaching staff, support staff, curriculum options, ICT, enrichment, maintenance and more in a bid to make ends meet – and there is more to come unless the government acts. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Around one-third of school business leaders have had to make up to £50,000 in cost savings during the past year, while a fifth have had to cut up to £100,000 from their school’s spending – and there is more to come.

A research survey published by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) finds that almost one in 10 school business leaders have had to find more than £300,000 in savings from their budgets.

Overall, only three of the 238 school business leaders involved in the research said that they have not had to find cost savings in the past 12 months.

The most common strategies to cut costs were cutting support staff numbers, reducing spending on maintenance, IT and other resources, and renegotiating service contracts.

Forty per cent said their schools had cut teaching staff, while 55 per cent have reduced spending on CPD.

The impact of these cuts, according to the school business leaders, are reduced curriculum options, reduced enrichment, less individual support for students, reduced mental health support and increased class sizes (see below for the key findings).

Furthermore, 118 of the respondents (49.6 per cent) said their school was still running at a deficit this financial year despite the cost savings, while 142 (60 per cent) expect to have a deficit in the next financial year.

And the picture is set to worsen as 220 of the 238 said that they expected to have to find further cost savings in the coming 12 months, with the majority expecting to have to find between £10,000 and £150,000 to cut.

Staff cuts are among the strategies earmarked for these further reductions, with 43 per cent of the respondents saying that teaching staff numbers will be reduced and 64 per cent saying that support staff will be targeted.

The survey, which was conducted in April, was released at ASCL’s Conference for Business Leaders, which took place last week in Nottingham. The respondents came mainly from secondary schools.

Core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017/18 to £42.4 billion in 2018/19 and then £43.5 billion in 2019/20. The DfE maintains that this will be enough to maintain the schools and high needs blocks of the Dedicated Schools Grant in real-terms per-pupil up to 2019/20.

However, while schools funding has been rising in monetary terms, increased costs including inflation, NI and pension contributions, and staff wages mean that in real-terms budgets are under pressure.

In July last year, the DfE announced extra schools funding of £1.3 billion. However, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported at the time that this additional funding will only serve to reduce the real-term cuts facing schools from 6.5 to 4.6 per cent between 2015 and 2019. ASCL has previously said that £2 billion a year will be needed by 2020 to address the funding situation. It says that £2.8 billion has been lost from school budgets in real-terms since 2015.

General secretary Geoff Barton said schools are being forced to find unpalatable savings: “The message of this survey could not be more stark. Unless the government takes urgent action over the school funding crisis the vital work that schools do will be increasingly eroded.

“Their ability to provide individual support to students – working with often vulnerable young people to overcome barriers to learning – will be further undermined. So too will their capacity to provide mental health support, as well as a full range of enrichment and curriculum options. Hard-won standards are being put at risk by chronic government under-investment.”

One survey respondent said: “Every contract and cost has been reviewed, every ounce of surplus fat removed and every stream streamlined. We are at the point now where if funding does not rise in real terms education is going to suffer.”

The ASCL research – key findings

Q: What savings have you made over the past 12 months?
Q: What savings do you expect to make in the next 12 months?

  • Less than £10,000: 5% & 5%
  • £10,000-£50,000: 29% & 29%
  • £50,000-£100,000: 19% & 19%
  • £100,000-£150,000: 14% & 17%
  • £150,000 to £200,000: 14% & 7%
  • £200,000 to £250,000: 6% & 6%
  • £250,000 to £300,000: 4% & 5%
  • More than £300,000: 9% & 6%

Q: What actions have you taken in the past year to reduce costs?
Q: What actions do you plan to take in the coming 12 months?

  • Cut teaching staff: 41% & 43%
  • Cut support staff: 77% & 64%
  • Cut the SLT: 35% & 21%
  • Cut maintenance spending: 64% & 58%
  • Cut IT spending: 59% & 53%
  • Cut spending on other resources: 74% & 77%
  • Renegotiated service contracts: 69% & 66%
  • Cut CPD costs: 55% & 48%
  • Ask for voluntary donations from parents for mainstream activities: 20% & 24%

Q: What impact have cost savings in the past year had?
Q: What impact will cost savings have in the next 12 months?

  • Reduced curriculum options: 51% & 54%
  • Reduced enrichment activities: 46% & 54%
  • Reduced individual support for students: 56% & 65%
  • Reduced counselling/mental health support: 23% & 32%
  • Increased class sizes: 52% & 49%
  • Increased teacher workload: 59% & 58%

* Figures have been rounded to the nearest whole percentage.


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