Survey finds class sizes are rising as a result of funding crisis

10 March 2017

More than 80% of respondents in an ASCL survey say that their school has had to increase class sizes over the past 12 months as a result of the education funding crisis.

On average, respondents said their largest class size was 33 pupils, and a significant number – 129 respondents – said it was 35 pupils or more. Funding pressures lead to bigger classes because staff numbers have to be reduced and classes have to be reorganised accordingly among fewer teachers. Several respondents expressed concerns that larger classes are more difficult to manage and mean an increased workload on teaching staff, as well as making it harder to provide feedback and support to pupils.

The survey also found that almost all respondents’ schools have had to cut back support services as a result of funding pressures. These services include maintenance of school premises, and classroom equipment and resources. But many respondents expressed particular concern over the impact on the provision for vulnerable students - 58% said special needs support has been affected, and 50% said mental health support has been affected. Reduced budgets mean fewer teachers and support staff are available to provide support in these areas, and there is less capacity for counselling and educational psychologists.

In addition, many respondents said some GCSE, A level and vocational courses have had to be removed from their curriculum, and the amount of enrichment activities their school provides - such as educational trips, clubs and other extra-curricular activities - has had to be reduced. Both the CBI and Department for Education have highlighted the importance of these activities in developing life skills and enhancing employability. But reduced staffing makes it impossible to maintain the same level of provision.

The results of the survey are released today as ASCL Annual Conference opens in Birmingham.

We asked members in England to tell us about the impact of funding pressures on their schools over the past 12 months – 1,054 respondents took part in the survey, mainly from secondary schools.

The headline findings are:

  • 95% say support services have had to be cut back

  • 68% say enrichment activities have had to be reduced

  • 82% say class sizes have had to increase

  • 72% of respondents, whose schools teach Key Stage 4 (14-16 year-olds), say courses have had to be removed from their GCSE options or vocational subjects

  • 79% of respondents, whose schools teach Key Stage 5 (16-18 year-olds), say courses have had to be removed from their A level options or vocational subjects

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The survey shows the impossible choices school leaders are having to make. Reduced budgets means fewer staff and, with fewer staff, class sizes have to increase. Schools cannot sustain the level of support they provide to pupils, or the range of subject options and enrichment activities.

“The impact on mental health support is particularly worrying at a time when the incidence of mental health problems among young people is rising and local health services are overwhelmed and under resourced. School leaders will do their utmost to protect provision, as they always do, but they cannot provide everything that is asked of them without the resources they need. Unless the government invests more in the education system, there will be a significant impact on the lives and life chances of young people.”

The funding crisis is caused by rising costs – such as employer national insurance and pension contributions – without additional funding from the government to pay for them. The situation will be further exacerbated by the imposition of the Apprenticeship Levy on many schools in April. The National Audit Office has said schools will have to make £3 billion of savings by 2019-20.

The majority of survey respondents said they expected that class sizes will have to rise further over the next 12 months, and that additional cuts will have to be made to support services, enrichment activities and course options.