Class sizes set to rise in nearly three-quarters of schools because of funding crisis

Nearly three-quarters of headteachers say they will have to increase class sizes over the next 12 months because of insufficient funding, according to the results of a survey by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
The survey finds many schools are cutting the number of teachers and teaching assistants they employ because of funding pressures. This in turn impacts on provision – most notably class sizes, curriculum options and pastoral support. Two-thirds of respondents (67.6%) say budget cuts have resulted in increased class sizes over the past 12 months and 73.7% say this will be an impact over the next 12 months.
According to the most recent Department for Education statistics, more than a million children are already taught in classes of more than 30 pupils in English schools. The number in large classes in secondary schools has increased by more than 200,000 between 2015/16 and 2023/24.
The ASCL survey of 749 headteachers in English state-funded schools, most of which are secondary schools, also found that:
  • Nearly 60% will have to reduce their curriculum offer.
  • More than half are reducing subsidised school trips.
  • Three-quarters are cutting classroom resources.
  • Nealy two-thirds will have to cut pastoral support
  • 62% will have to run an in-year deficit budget.
  • More than 40% are planning to ask for parental donations.
The condition of many schools buildings and facilities is also a major concern after years of government underinvestment:
  • Nearly 70% say they have classrooms which require replacement or refurbishment.
  • More than half have sports facilities which require similar action.
  • More than 40% have asbestos in ceilings or walls.
  • A similar number have boilers or heating systems which require replacement.
Eight in 10 respondents said they were unable to access sufficient capital funding to pay for repairs and maintenance.
Pepe Di’Iasio, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government regularly claims that it is putting record investment into schools but the truth is that in many cases rising costs have outstripped funding allocations. This leaves schools with no option other than to run deficit budgets while they implement cost-cutting programmes.
“They do everything they possibly can to minimise the impact on their pupils, but in the end there is nowhere left to go other than to reduce staffing numbers with inevitable consequences for class sizes, the curriculum they are able to offer, and pastoral support.
“The subjects most likely to suffer are those with smaller numbers like music, drama, technology subjects and languages. What we are seeing is the gradual erosion of the curriculum breadth and richness which is a proud feature of our education system. It is death by a thousand cuts.
“The government’s public sector spending plans currently pencilled in for the next five years are very tight indeed and add to a bleak picture with little prospect for improvement to this dire situation.
“We don’t think this is good enough for young people or the country as whole. The new government has to show a greater sense of ambition and recognise that education is a worthwhile investment in the future rather than a cost to be managed.”

We sent our survey to 3,229 headteachers in England last week, and received 749 responses, a rate of 23%. The majority, 87.5%, were from secondary and all-through schools. The results were:
Have you taken/ are you planning any of the following actions as a result of lack of sufficient funding?    
  Past 12 months Next 12 months
Reduced senior leadership team 35.1% 34.6%
Reduced number of teachers 57.4% 60.9%
Reduced number of teaching assistants 57.0% 52.7%
Reduced number of other support staff 58.3% 59.4%
Reduced number of subsidised school trips 45.3% 52.7%
Reduced IT support 29.1% 34.4%
Reduced budgets for classroom resources 73.0% 74.8%
Reduced budgets for sports equipment 39.4% 47.5%
Requested parental donations 36.3% 42.6%
Have budget cuts resulted/ will result in any of the following impacts?    
  Past 12 months Next 12 months
Increased class sizes 67.6% 73.7%
Reduced curriculum offer 50.1% 58.3%
Reduced pastoral support 55.9% 63.7%
Reduced additional academic support 65.8% 72.9%
Examples of reduced curriculum offer
We are no longer able to run A-level courses such as dance, German and music.
No longer running GCSE or A-level music – completely cut from our curriculum.
Can't run GCSE music, A-level computing, BTEC sport.
We are not running some courses at KS [Key stage] 4 and 5 that had a small number of students such as music and food. This may have to be extended to areas such as MFL [modern foreign languages] in the future.
GCSE options with fewer than 15 students will not run. This has impacted on dance and music this year.
We will no longer be able to offer all creative arts subjects with music and drama being most affected.
Unable to offer music and certain technology subjects at GCSE.
We will be looking at reducing the number of languages we offer as well as reducing our A-level offer and some of the more 'niche' GCSEs such as textiles
No longer offering music, reduced MFL offer and technology due to low numbers of students which can no longer be sustained.
We have had to reduce our languages offer so we no longer offer German because class sizes are too small. We have reduced the number of design subjects at GCSE for the same reasons.
Has your school run/ will your school run an in-year deficit budget?    
  Past 12 months Next 12 months
Yes 56.6% 62.1%
No 43.4% 11.2%
Don’t know because of uncertainty over costs (teacher pay etc)   26.7%
Does your school have any of the following issues with buildings and facilities?  
Asbestos in ceilings/ walls 41.3%
Classrooms which require replacement or refurbishment 68.9%
Boiler/ heating system which requires replacement 44.6%
Electrics which require replacement 39.0%
Kitchen which requires replacement or refurbishment 37.0%
Sports facilities which require replacement or refurbishment 52.3%
Are you able to access sufficient capital funding to pay for repairs and maintenance work in your school?  
Yes 19.6%
No 80.4%
Examples of general comments on funding situation.
Next year we will have to run a large in-year deficit which we can just about do for one year by using up our reserves but after that there will be nothing left to draw upon. In other words, two years of the current settlement and we go under.
For the last two years I have been made utterly miserable by the process of budget planning because I know that the cuts I am making to try and avoid a deficit are making the educational offer at my school less good. I feel immensely depressed about presiding over this. What really upsets me is the loss of subjects, like music, which I feel should be a fundamental part of a secondary school curriculum but which I can no longer offer. I also worry about the impact of classes of 32 as a given.
We try our best to offer a rich and engaging curriculum for all our students. We want music and drama and sport to be offered for all students. It is a disgrace that persistently poor funding over several years means that we have to cut our offer, in terms of both curriculum and extra-curricular provision.
The three-year forecast is extremely worrying and is causing significant concern and worry about maintaining the high-quality levels of curriculum, facilities and teachers and leaders in our school.
It's dire, and the fact that government are trying to gaslight everyone into believing otherwise (including "fully funded" pay rises) is shameful.
I have pared back everything to the bone. The only step left is a reduction in teaching staff and increased class sizes.
The situation continues to worsen. I have made significant savings through natural wastage and cutting budget lines across the board. I am now in a position where there simply isn't anything left to cut.