From education to employment

New Sutton Trust Polling of Teachers on School Funding

man and student

New Sutton Trust polling of teachers reports that half of senior leaders say school trips and outings have had to be cut, as well as teaching assistants, sport and other provisions.

As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, the impact is being felt across the country, from households, to businesses, and also in the public sector. That includes schools, many of which are finding their funding stretched thin by rising costs.

Today’s polling of 1,428 teachers and senior leaders, part of our yearly teacher polling series conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), paints a stark picture of the situation faced by state schools in England. Across the board, schools are being forced to make cuts, from teaching assistants to school trips, support staff and sports.

Schools having to make cuts is not new, but the rate at which senior leaders are reporting these issues has risen sharply since 2022 (see table 1). For example, cuts to teaching assistants are now reported by 63% of senior leaders, up from 42% last year. Reports of cuts to spending on IT equipment have now risen to 42%, up from 27% in 2022.

And reports of cuts to trips and outings have more than doubled, now standing at 50%, up from 21% – a proportion that is even higher in schools with the most disadvantaged intakes, at 68%, compared to 44% in the least deprived schools. These findings are especially concerning given the importance of school trips in broadening the horizons of young people in low income families, who are less likely to have these experiences outside of those provided by school.

Table 1: Areas cut for financial reasons in schools.

Areas senior leaders report making cuts:20222023
Teaching assistants42%63%
Trips and outings21%50%
IT equipment27%42%
Sports and other extracurricular activities15%26%
Support staff33%40%

Pupil premium funding is designed to allow schools to give additional support to the poorest children. However, the funding is increasingly being swallowed up by the need to fill funding gaps elsewhere.

This year, 41% of senior leaders said they were using pupil premium to plug gaps in their budgets, up from 33% last year, and the highest figure since the Sutton Trust first started asking this question back in 2017 (Figure 1).

As well as ongoing financial pressures, our new polling of teachers also finds that many schools are experiencing issues with teacher recruitment. 71% of senior leaders reported difficulties recruiting teachers this year, with over a quarter (26%) saying this was to a great extent. This is similar to the proportion saying the same the last time we asked this question in 2019, when 70% reported difficulties, showing there have been no real improvements in recruitment issues in that time.

Schools have had a difficult few years, facing major stresses during the pandemic, supporting students to catch up on lost learning when they returned to class, and now facing the fallout of the cost of living crisis. Teachers have worked hard to do what they can to support students, but more support is desperately needed from government.

We have previously highlighted how funding for catch up has been lower in England than elsewhere, and the need for additional support. Now, coupled with the impacts of the cost of living crisis, the need for additional funding in schools is clear. The government must urgently review the funding given to schools in light of these findings, particularly those serving the most deprived communities.

Sector Response

Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Schools, said: 

“The damage that 13 years of Conservative government is doing to our children’s life opportunities is being laid bare. 

“Children are missing out on the enrichment brought by school trips, sports, drama and are having their subject choices at GCSE limited because of the government’s continued neglect of our schools.

“Labour will deliver high and rising standards in every school, for every child, by recruiting thousands of new teachers – funded by ending tax breaks for private schools – to ensure every child gets the best standards of teaching and learning.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“The Sutton Trust report highlights the dire situation schools and colleges find themselves in due to decades of Government underfunding.

“Class sizes are at record levels – primary class sizes are the highest in Europe and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began more than 40 years ago. The education sector needs more money and needs it now. All children deserve to be taught in classes of fewer than 30 led by a qualified teacher.

“In 2022, the Government spent just 4.2% of GDP on education compared with 5.6% in 2010. High income countries spend an average of 5% of GDP on education. The Government ultimately must decide what type of country it wishes us to be – a low-wage, low-skill, low-investment economy, or a high-investment, high-skill, high-productivity economy, leading to high wages for its citizens.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The evidence could not be clearer that the school funding crisis is severe and worsening. This is the result of insufficient funding from the government to cover the cost of staff pay awards and general inflationary pressures which come on top of a decade of underfunding.

“Schools are in fact fighting on two fronts as they not only have to make difficult decisions about where to cut provision but are also struggling with a teacher recruitment and retention crisis caused by government policies which have eroded the real value of pay and worsened working conditions. The young people who are suffering the most are those in the most disadvantaged communities.

“The government’s insistence that an extra £2 billion for school funding in 2023/24 will fix every funding problem is at odds with reality. Many schools will continue to experience extremely difficult financial circumstances which will necessitate further cuts. Ministers must produce a realistic plan to ensure schools and colleges have the resources they need.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“These shocking figures lay bare how a continuing funding and recruitment crisis is preventing many schools from offering children, including some of the most disadvantaged, the rich education they deserve.

“School leaders are struggling with basic recruitment of teachers, and with teacher training numbers again looking likely to miss targets, a clear picture of teacher and leader shortages is emerging.

“But schools are also being forced to pursue an increasingly narrow core curriculum because they cannot afford to offer cultural and sporting activities which level up opportunities and enrich children’s knowledge and wellbeing.

“The government needs to recognise that school leaders desperately need more funding and make a serious offer to end the industrial dispute which reflects the real-term pay cuts, crippling workload and high-stakes accountability faced by dedicated staff.

“Instead, ministers have proposed that schools should fund below-inflation pay rises from already stretched, inflation-hit budgets, a delusional approach which will strengthen the perception that teaching is no longer an attractive profession and make it harder for leaders to offer children a first-rate education.”

Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said:

“This latest evidence highlights a worrying trend among our schools. We know that despite having equal potential, children from low-income homes simply do not have access to the same opportunities in school as their more affluent peers, and evidence of further cuts to essential staff and activities could widen an already gaping inequality gap.

“Pupil premium funding needs to be safeguarded to support the education of our poorest pupils – so it’s hugely concerning that schools are being forced to use it to plug wider budget gaps. Schools must be adequately funded to deal with these increasing challenges, meaning that the government should weight funding towards schools serving the poorest areas. 

“This will allow pupils in need of extra help get the support they require to reach their full potential while also building the highly skilled workforce needed to power the economic potential of our country.” 

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