Bleak forecast

This article originally appeared in Leader magazine
Autumn Term 2 2022

The scale of the funding crisis facing schools and colleges was laid bare by an ASCL survey in October. It provided a bleak forecast of what lies ahead unless the government improves the financial settlement for education. Here, Richard Bettsworth highlights the findings.

Almost all of the 630 respondents (98%) said their school or college would have to make financial savings either in the current academic year 2022/23 or future years, or both, compared to last year, as a result of cost pressures. Alarmingly, 60% said they will have to make financial savings both in the current academic year and in future years. When we asked what financial savings were being considered: 

  • 58% said reducing teaching staff and increasing class sizes 
  • 55% said reducing the number of teaching assistants 
  • 68% said reducing the number of other support staff 
  • 43% said reducing teaching staff and curriculum options/ subjects taught - the subjects most likely to be affected are music, drama and design and technology 
  • 66% said suspending or scrapping capital projects 
  • 31% said reducing extra-curricular activities 
In addition, some respondents also mentioned measures such as reducing energy costs by turning off the heating earlier in the school day and keeping the heating off until later in the year. Others said the need for financial savings was likely to impact on mental health and counselling services for students. 
 

Press reports have suggested that some schools may reduce to four-day or three-day weeks to reduce costs. So, we also asked respondents whether this was being considered. None are considering a three-day week, but 17 schools (2.7%) are considering a four-day week. 

The circumstances that lie behind this crisis are, of course, steeply rising costs and an inadequate level of government funding to meet those costs. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has analysed the figures and found that, on current plans, government real-terms per pupil funding for schools by the end of this Parliament will still be 3% lower than in 2010. On the same measure, colleges will be 11% worse off, and school sixth form funding will be 27% lower (read more at tinyurl.com/5899f4kn). 

The survey endeavoured to find out the extent of the extra costs being faced by schools and colleges. This obviously varies depending on a number of factors - such as the composition of the workforce, and the details of energy contracts. Establishing these costs is made more complicated by the fact that the impact of the government's energy price guarantee was not fully clear at the time the survey was conducted. 

However, our survey feedback showed that some secondary schools are facing extra costs of up to £500,000 this year - the equivalent of about ten teachers. 

98% of respondents will need to make savings in the current academic and future years

The impact 
The survey also asked respondents to give their assessment of the educational impact of cost pressures and savings on their school or college. Their comments included:

“Devastating. I have been here for 15 years and put my heart and soul into improving this school. It has been tough, but it has worked; this is now going to be thrown away. I have no option but to make significant redundancies across all areas of the school, from SLT to support staff. The impact will be a significant increase in class sizes, more work for the senior colleagues who will still be here and over time, the improvements which have been made will be eroded. I am completely disillusioned.” 

“Catastrophic. The scale of savings required in-year is unachievable. Our forecast budget, which was previously positive, is now dire. We would have to fundamentally change our offer to manage. The quality of education we will be able to provide will be substantially reduced.” 

It is clear that the funding crisis will impact on virtually all schools and colleges. But there is particular concern about special schools because of the requirement for higher staff-to-pupil ratios and therefore, the potentially huge impact of national pay awards for which there is no additional government funding. This is an issue that we will gather more evidence on in the future. Certainly, one of our respondents spelled out the human cost. 

“As a special school, catering for vulnerable pupils who have been hardest hit by the impact of Covid, we are expecting not to be able to provide as much classroom support (Learning Support Assistants and Speech and Language Therapy) that is so beneficial for these pupils. The school was already operating in deficit during 2021/22 and so unfunded pay awards will make it impossible to break-even.” 

The survey is part of ASCL's work to improve the funding settlement to schools and colleges, and provides us with evidence that we can present to the government and highlight in the media about the likely educational impact if action is not taken. We intend to further build on this evidence base by bringing together case studies that illustrate in more detail the predicament faced by different types of schools and colleges. 

In addition, we are working with other education organisations to make clear the need for more funding. ASCL was recently among 13 organisations that wrote to all Conservative MPs, ahead of the most recent Conservative leadership election, urging them to ensure the new Prime Minister delivers the pledge to restore school and college funding to 2010 levels. 

At the time of writing, we await the government's Autumn Statement on 17 November, when we hope to find out more about its plans for education. Certainly, we will continue to campaign on this issue as our number one priority for as long as it takes.

Richard Bettsworth 
ASCL Director of Public Affairs 
@ASCL_UK

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