Schools having to prioritise cost-cutting over quality of children’s education - finds ATL/NUT survey

10 April 2017

Funding pressures are already biting in schools in England, affecting the quality of children’s education, and parents are being asked to make up the shortfall according to a joint survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and National Union of Teachers (NUT).

One respondent, a teacher in a primary school in Essex, said: “Over the last two years, the ethos of the school has changed from being based on a family atmosphere to being driven by cost cutting”.

In a survey of nearly 1,200 teachers, support staff and heads carried out in March, the key findings are that during this school year:

  • three-quarters (76%) said their school’s budget has been cut this year compared to last year;
  • 93% are pessimistic about their school’s funding over the coming three years;
  • half (50%) said their school has bigger class sizes than last year, rising to 70% of secondary respondents;
  • 60% of secondary staff (excluding don’t knows) said their school has cut the range of non-EBacc subjects and 64% said there are fewer vocational options.
  • a quarter (24%) of secondary staff said their school has cut teaching hours for courses;
  • 73% said their school has cut spending on books and equipment (73% in secondary schools and 74% in primaries);
  • nearly half (46%) said their school has cut spending on ICT;
  • 41% said their school has cut special educational needs (SEN) provision (38% in primary and 44% in secondary); and
  • 18% said their school has cut support for English as an additional language (EAL).

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “The Government needs to sit up and listen. Schools are already struggling to make ends meet and children are already losing out. But Government underfunding means this will get much worse, since in two years’ time schools will have to make savings of more than £3 billion a year. Unless the Government finds more money for schools and fast, today’s school children will have severely limited choices at school and children from poorer families will be even further disadvantaged because their parents may struggle to provide the resources schools can no longer afford.”

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of NUT, said: “Children deserve and need an education system that supports their learning and provides a rich and varied curriculum but schools are struggling to provide this with their current funding. When the Government's real terms cuts take effect schools will simply be running on empty.

“Parents cannot sit back and watch their children’s education harmed by this bargain basement approach to schooling. The Government must listen to the parents, MPs, head teachers, education unions and school governors who have been lobbying to say that enough is enough. More money must be found for our schools. Our Government must invest in our country and invest in our children.”

The survey showed that schools are resorting to a variety of ways to raise funds and try to make ends meet. Half of respondents (49%) said their school has asked parents to pay for items to help their child’s education. Most commonly schools ask parents to pay for attendance at school concerts and sports events, but 10% said their school asks parents to pay for text books and 12% for art and design technology materials.

One in six said their school asks parents for money to help fund the school – 17% of primary and 16% of secondary respondents. Most schools do not specify how much they want parents to give, but 14 respondents said their school asks for more than £20 a month (20 over £10 a month and 31 over £5).

In addition, 521 respondents (44%) said their school is renting out its school buildings, 304 (26%) said their school is renting out its grounds and 61 (5%) renting out the school car park, with 68 saying their school now has adverts on school premises.

Comments by respondents to the survey included:

  • “The average class sizes in maths have gone over 30 - in the top sets it is 35 students. The quality of learning is falling as a result.” - teacher in secondary school, Somerset
  • “At times we have 35 in classrooms designed to accommodate 32.” - teacher in secondary school, Leicester
  • ”I have one ‘master class’ of 64, with another teacher on cover to support behaviour, which is frankly just a lecture and the students are doing badly as I cannot help them all!” - teacher in secondary school, Northern England
  • “Class sizes are being pushed beyond the limit – bums on seats mean more money and children are having to carry their chairs around the school.”  - teacher in primary school, Surrey
  • “Teaching hours for A-level subjects such as maths have been cut from five to four hours a week. The pupils suffer because they do not have sufficient contact time with the teacher.”  - teacher in secondary school, Hertfordshire
  • “Our day has been shortened to save on staffing costs, but the needs of the children are still the same.” - teacher in primary school, Sefton
  • “GCSE options below 20 students won’t run.” - teacher in secondary school, West Sussex
  • “All vocational subjects have already been removed from the curriculum because of funding pressures.” - teacher in secondary school, Cornwall
  • “We can’t even buy any textbooks for the raft of new GCSEs and A-level courses the Government is forcing on us!” - teacher in secondary school, Worcestershire
  • ”To save money children are often asked to take photos of homework on their mobiles.” - teaching assistant in secondary school, London
  • “Lessons are having to be planned around the lack of equipment, rather than the most effective way for students to learn.” - teacher in primary school, Kent
  • “As well as a lack of SEN support, there are fewer statements. Children who would have previously had extra support are going without.” - teacher in primary school, Cumbria
  • “In a school with a high number of SEN and EAL pupils, having fewer classroom support staff has a major impact on provision for students and workload for all staff.” - teacher in a primary school, Nottingham
  • “I had to cancel gymnastics lessons due to our school hall being leased out for educational conferences during the day.” - teacher in primary school, Essex

Note to editors:

  • The joint ATL and NUT survey, carried out in March 2017, had responses from 1,177 members working in state-funded schools in England. Fifty-one per cent from secondary schools, 38% from primaries and 5% from special and other schools.
  • The Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ Annual Conference will be held at ACC in Liverpool from Monday 10 until Wednesday 12 April.
  • The National Union of Teachers’ Annual Conference will be held at St David’s Hall, Cardiff from Friday 14 until Tuesday 18 April.