Survey reveals impact of budget pressures as school leaders look to balance the books

20 November 2015

School leaders are facing intense budget pressures and are considering making cuts to both teaching and non-teaching positions over the coming year as they look to manage their budgets, according to a recent survey of over 1,300 school leaders.

The survey by law firm Browne Jacobson and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) showed that over half (55 per cent) of school leaders said they were looking to cut staffing costs over the next year.

Of these 78 per cent were looking to make cuts to teaching staff with a similar number targeting support staff. Four out of ten (43 per cent) will be seeking to make cuts to leadership positions. The majority (61 per cent) will be looking to make cuts of between 2-5 per cent of their total workforce.

Not surprisingly nine out of every ten school leaders were dissatisfied with the Government’s funding of schools, of which six out of ten were very dissatisfied.

Nick Mackenzie, education partner at law firm Browne Jacobson, said: “Many schools are clearly living on a financial knife-edge with some facing the daunting prospect of having to reduce their staffing levels by as much as one-fifth.

“Nicky Morgan has said the new fairer funding formula will not be ready until September 2017 at the very earliest. Unfortunately, that may be just too late for some in the sector and we would urge the Chancellor in the Comprehensive Spending Review to introduce more additional measures to help ease the financial burden of the worst-funded schools in the interim.”

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools face rising costs without any additional money to meet them. This is effectively a significant real-terms cut in their budgets. Those in the worst-funded areas, under our wildly inequitable funding system, are suffering the most. School leaders do everything in their power to minimise the impact on their pupils, but budget reductions on this scale inevitably mean cutting courses and increasing class sizes.

“We are particularly worried about the woefully inadequate level of funding for post-16 education which is having a significant and detrimental impact on school sixth forms and colleges. Education is an investment in the future of young people and the economy. We are failing to put enough money into that investment and without urgent action we will pay a long-term price.”

Other findings included:

  • Three quarters of leaders (72 per cent) felt negative when asked about the impact the Government’s education policy is likely to have on their schools compared to 12 months ago. Fewer than one in ten school leaders were positive about Government policies.

  •  90 per cent of school leaders felt negative or very negative when asked about the financial prospects of the Government’s policies on their schools.

  • One in five (21 per cent) of school leaders raised concerns about the quality of training to help them and their staff implement the Government’s Prevent strategy in the classroom.

School leaders’ comments on the key issues and concerns impacting on the sector:

  1. “We have made revisions across the curriculum in all year groups, including larger group sizes and cutting non-viable subjects. An increased staff workload means less time to spend on those students most in need. I have real concerns as to the impact of this on teaching and learning but it is the only way to reduce the deficit.  I remain hopeful that a national fair funding formula may enable us to reinstate some of what we are proposing to cut.” Anon

  2. “Areas not related to staffing have been trimmed to the bone before any changes were made to staffing costs. We have reduced the GCSE course offer and raised the number of students needed to make a course viable from 10 to 15. While we have a predominantly academic curriculum, we have always offered options at a local vocational college for the small number for whom this is appropriate. The number of these places this year has been halved in order to reduce costs. We expect to narrow the GCSE options further for 2016-17.” Anon

  3. “Class sizes have increased from an average of 24 to 30 across the piste for years 7 to 9. The GCSE curriculum has been reduced and some subjects marginalised because they cannot either be staffed or funded. We cannot operate any option choices of below 20 students. Curriculum areas with a high consumable budget such as the arts and design and technology are particularly vulnerable. This is resulting in an increasingly condensed curriculum that is in danger of going back to text-based teaching.” Anon

  4. “Finances are a real issue and strategic leadership will have to think long and hard about how they are to achieve more with less. It is not impossible to do this but it will not be possible with the same strategy. Never before has working in partnership been as critical as it is today.” Sir Andrew Carter OBE, Headteacher of South Farnham School

  5. “Whilst we share a commitment to having a world-class education for our children and an education system that provides the rigour required so that our young people can compete in a global market, we have concerns that some policy decisions over the past 12 months, and even post-election seem to be eroding academy freedoms in their curriculum and may disproportionately affect lower achievers.” Denise Shepherd, Chief Executive Officer, The Thinking Schools Academy Trust

  6. “The challenge of finance over the next five years has had a significant impact on financial planning and the need to ensure that academy budgets are rigorously monitored so that they do not deviate from planned expenditure without approval. The value of being part of a large trust provides some real security for individual academies who may be facing financial difficulties in the short term. Our financial planning has been helped by increasing pupil numbers rather than their moving in the other direction. However, growth has its own problems associated with the lag in funding that has caused us some difficulty when pupil numbers have grown significantly.” Ian Cleland, Chief Executive, Academy Transformation Trust

ASCL and Browne Jacobson: School leaders survey 2015