Rising costs force most schools to cut spending, finds DfE survey

According to school leaders and teachers surveyed by the DfE, 91 per cent of schools cut spending on at least one area between November 2021 and 2022

According to school leaders and teachers surveyed by the DfE, 91 per cent of schools cut spending on at least one area between November 2021 and 2022

23 Feb 2023, 16:56

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Most schools have taken at least one measure to reduce spending in the last year, a new survey shows

The vast majority of schools have taken measures to cut spending since the cost-of-living crisis began, new government survey data shows.

According to school leaders and teachers, 91 per cent of schools took at least one measure to reduce spending between November 2021 and 2022.

The most common means were by cutting learning resources or building and maintenance costs.

The finding comes from the latest school and college panel research report, published by the Department for Education. It has also released results from its September survey.

A separate survey of the DfE’s parents, pupil and learner panel, also published today, found one in five parents said the economic crisis had negatively affected their child’s mental health.

Here’s a summary of findings from both surveys.

1. Most schools are cutting costs

In a November school and college panel survey, 91 per cent of respondents said their school had taken at least one measure to cut spending in the last 12 months.

Seventy-three per cent said they had reduced spending on learning resources, while 63 per cent have slashed building and maintenance spending.

Fifty-one per cent said they had cut energy use to save money, and half said they had slashed teaching assistant numbers or hours.

The most common method was through reducing spending on learning resources (73 per cent). .

In a schools’ costs document this week, the DfE said during the current financial year, it estimated funding for mainstream schools had risen by 6.8 per cent, while costs had increased by 6.1 per cent.

It added that the figures implied schools on average could raise spending by 0.7 per cent but noted the volatility of current energy prices.

Yet the survey finding comes amid a backdrop of school funding woes, with energy prices, inflation and unfunded pay rises eating into budgets this year.

2. Staff morale takes hit from budget cuts

The majority (88 per cent) of schools that reduced spending felt this had an impact on pupils or staff.

Seventy-one per cent said curbing spending had reduced staff morale. And 69 per cent thought it had increased teacher workload and 59 per cent believed it had reduced support for pupils with additional needs.

The outlook could worsen too, with responses showing more cuts were likely over the next 12 months.

Fifty-one per cent said it was ‘very likely’ their school would reduce spending on learning resources. Forty-seven per cent gave the same response for cuts to building and maintenance costs.

3. More pupils turning up to school hungry

Two-thirds of those working in schools reported the number of pupils arriving hungry had increased since the start of the academic year.

It follows warnings about rising poverty from the sector.

Last week a group of 150 headteachers urged the chancellor to hike school breakfast funding at next month’s budget, warning pupils were “unable” to learn with hunger “steadily getting worse”.

4. Parents also counting the cost of living

The latest parent, pupil and learner panel report took answers from 2,976 parents and 2,245 secondary pupils.

A quarter of parents said they were worried about affording meals for their child during the academic year.

Meanwhile, 72 per cent of parents felt they were worse of financially at the time of the survey than a year before.

This was an almost 10 percentage point increase from the DfE’s September survey, which found 63 per cent of parents felt they were worse off than a year before.

In that same survey, one in five of parents said they thought the economic situation had negatively affected the mental health of their child.

5. 1 in 7 schools report increase in sexual abuse reports

Only 86 per cent of school leaders said they were aware of Ofsted’s recent review of sexual abuse in schools. For teachers, the figure was lower at 65 per cent.

Asked if reports of sexual harassment and abuse from pupils in the past year had changed, 77 per cent of schools said there had been no change.

Another 14 per cent said they had seen an increase in reports.

6. Early support services hard to access

Three quarters of schools felt it was not easy to access family support services for pupils and their families.

They said the most common barrier was waiting times for referrals, while half of schools had funded their own family support services.

Similarly, only two in five parents said in the earlier parent, pupil and learner survey that they had heard of family hubs, which offer early intervention.

7. Half of schools use reasonable force each term

Half of schools reported using reasonable force or physical restraint at least once a term.

Nine in 10 reported having a policy on when, where and how reasonable force and physical restraint were used.

But only 36 per cent of leaders and teachers reported receiving training on the issue within the last five years.

The DfE is set to update its reasonable force guidance, according to a new consultation.

8. One in five schools not using the NTP

In November, 78 per cent of schools said they were currently using, or planned to use at least one National Tutoring Programme (NTP) route this year.

The flagship scheme has been beset with issues since its inception, including delivering tutoring to fewer poorer pupils than expected.

9. Most schools struggle to recruit in at least one secondary subject

Against a background of poor ITT recruitment, nine in ten secondary schools surveyed in September said it was difficult to recruit in at least one subject over the past six months.

This was highest for STEM subjects, with 47 per cent of schools citing difficulties in recruiting physics teachers, 42 per cent maths teachers and 39 per cent computing teachers.

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