School funding

More heads cut school trips amid funding crisis

Sutton Trust research finds steep rises in schools cutting back on teaching assistants and IT equipment

Sutton Trust research finds steep rises in schools cutting back on teaching assistants and IT equipment

26 Apr 2023, 0:01

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Results from a new Sutton Trust survey show the proportion of heads reporting cuts to school trips has more than doubled since last year

The proportion of headteachers reporting cuts to school trips due to funding issues has more than doubled since last year, a new poll shows.

The survey, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Sutton Trust, also shows steep rises in schools cutting back on teaching assistants and IT equipment.

Responses from 1,428 primary and secondary teachers last month show 50 per cent of senior leaders said their school had to cut back on trips and outings during the current academic year.

In last year‘s Teacher Voices Omnibus Survey, 21 per cent of leaders gave the same answer.

Schools in the most disadvantaged areas were most likely to be impacted by cuts to trips, with 68 per cent of leaders in the most deprived schools reporting a reduction, compared to 44 per cent in the least deprived.

The proportion of heads reporting cuts to teaching assistants also rose from 42 per cent to 63 per cent, while the proportion saying they had cut back on IT equipment grew from 27 per cent to 42 per cent.

Chart showing the growth in school leaders reporting cuts to key areas of their budgets

The proportion of secondary leaders cutting back on subject choices has also grown in the last year.

At GCSE, a quarter said the number of available subjects had fallen, up from 17 per cent last year.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) also reported cuts to A level subjects. The figure in 2022 was 16 per cent.

Heads use pupil premium to plug budget gaps

It comes as schools face continued funding pressures amid spiralling costs.

The Department for Education (DfE) has estimated schools overall could afford £2.4 billion in “new spending” between 2022 and 2024 before facing a net pressure on their budgets.

But the Confederation of School Trusts recently warned its members could face “a prolonged period of financial challenge and instability” due to pay rises and other increasing costs.

The Sutton Trust’s poll shows two in five primary and secondary leaders reported using pupil premium – funding given to schools to support poorer pupils’ learning – to plug gaps in their general budget.

This is an increase from 33 per cent in 2022 and the highest figure since the Trust began publishing surveys on the issue in 2017.

Carl Cullinane, director of research and policy at the social mobility charity, said the survey painted “a deeply concerning picture of our schools”.

“In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the continuing impacts of the pandemic, schools are having to cut essential staff and activities for pupils,” he added.

“Funding for poorer pupils through the pupil premium is more important than ever in the context of these pressures. It is deeply concerning that increasing numbers of schools report having to use [it] to plug budget gaps.”

Leaders struggling to recruit teachers

The report also underlines recruitment issues in the sector.

Seven in 10 leaders reported difficulties in recruiting teachers this year, with a quarter saying they had faced difficulties “to a great extent”.

This shows little improvement on pre-Covid 2019, when 70 per cent reported difficulties.

The NFER has previously predicted the DfE will again miss its initial teacher training targets this year.

The government-funded teacher training provider Teach First and the National Education Union (NEU) both called on the government to invest in schools off the back of the report’s findings.

Teach First’s CEO Russell Hobby said further cuts to “essential” staff and activities could “widen an already gaping inequality gap”.

He argued that schools should be “adequately” funded to deal with increased challenges, with funding weighted towards schools in 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.” 

NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said it highlighted “the dire situation schools…find themselves in due to decades of government underfunding”.

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