Schools need an extra £5.7 billion to deliver basic expectation

15 March 2019

School funding must be increased by £5.7 billion to give every child the education that society expects and children deserve, according to analysis by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

ASCL President Richard Sheriff will warn in his speech to the association’s annual conference in Birmingham today (Friday 15 March) that schools will have to make even deeper cuts or face insolvency unless funding improves.

ASCL funding experts have developed a model which establishes the level of per pupil funding needed to deliver the basic expectation on schools. The model indicates a shortfall of £5.7 billion in the amount of funding needed by primary and secondary schools in England in 2019/20. Schools require £40.2 billion compared to the government’s allocation of £34.5 billion.

The report, The True Cost of Education, comes at a time when school budgets are under intense pressure and in response to a question posed by Robert Halfon MP, chair of the House of Commons Education Committee, in an inquiry about school funding, over how much money is needed.

School funding per pupil has fallen by eight per cent in real terms over the past eight years, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.1

Many schools have had to reduce staffing which means larger classes, less one-to-one and small-group support for pupils with additional needs, and cuts to the curriculum. Subjects such as creative arts and modern foreign languages are particularly vulnerable because groups tend to be smaller and are therefore difficult to sustain financially.

According to the Department for Education’s own statistics, class sizes have increased since 2015. The percentage of pupils in secondary school classes of more than 30 pupils has risen from 9.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent, which equates to 83,000 more pupils in large classes.2

Richard Sheriff will tell an audience of 1,000 school and college leaders in Birmingham today: “We have analysed what it costs to provide the education service that our society expects and our children deserve. It is not an excessive or unrealistic expectation. Our model is based on schools being able to deliver a core curriculum in a building that is safe and well maintained, put a qualified teacher in front of every class, and meet necessary pastoral, safeguarding and special educational needs requirements.

“And it results in this simple headline figure. Our schools need £5.7 billion more in 2019/20 than is currently available in the schools budget.

“We offer this analysis not as a criticism of the Department for Education or the government but as a constructive assessment for consideration in the forthcoming spending review. We understand that policy must be informed by evidence, and this is our attempt to change the tone of the discourse on this crucial issue from one of rhetoric to one of solutions.

“On the current trajectory, schools will either have to make more unpalatable cuts to the curriculum and the support they provide to pupils, or they will face insolvency. This is not a scenario which is acceptable to anyone – schools, parents, communities or government. Now is the time to work constructively together to provide a realistic settlement which assures the quality of education that the public expects.

“It must be obvious to everyone that a funding gap of £5.7 billion cannot be resolved by trying to squeeze a few more efficiencies out of a system where every cost has already been trimmed. The answer must come from the Treasury in the form of additional investment.”

The funding model developed by ASCL examines the schools budget for pupils aged 5-16. High needs funding and 16-19 funding are outside the scope of this report but there is separate work being undertaken in these crucial areas.

A survey of 407 secondary school headteachers in England and Wales published today by ASCL found that almost all respondents (404) reported having to make budget cuts since 2015 with 60% saying these cuts were severe.3

Headteachers were asked to comment on the impact. Here are some of the responses from headteachers in England:

“We have had to increase our class sizes at all key stages, remove our one-to-one support for English and maths and remove subjects from our curriculum offering that are no longer viable to run.”

“It is becoming harder and harder to support students with all types of special needs effectively as we do not have the funding to run the level of provision that we want to, know we should and used to.”

“Increased workload for teachers - class sizes have risen from average of 24 to now 32 pupils per class. This also means less attention for pupils in need.”

“Reduced staffing has resulted in significantly larger classes. Curriculum is now narrower and courses for some groups are no longer financially viable.”

“It has impacted on all groups of students from the highest ability to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged: group sizes are bigger, the range of options reduced, the experiences beyond the classroom more limited.”

“The cuts have impacted on those wanting to do 'minority' subjects, particularly music and languages at our school, both pre and post-16.”

“The cuts have affected all our learners. We all became headteachers to make a positive difference to the lives of young people. I am extremely concerned that these cuts have already harmed the quality of education we are able to provide and ask that the government addresses these issues and properly invests in our children by sufficiently funding education.”

“Class sizes have crept up and we have reduced the range of our curriculum offer. We are less likely to be able to meet the varying needs of all young people due to the financial constraints under which we now operate.”

“Main impacts: larger class sizes, more pressure on staff, minority options subjects cut. In general this means a less personalised education experience for young people.”

1 2018 annual report on education spending in England. Institute for Fiscal Studies. 17 September 2018.

2 Schools, pupils and their characteristics: January 2018. Department for Education. 28 June 2018. Table 6b.

3 The England-only figures were: severe cuts 218 (58 per cent); some cuts 154 (41 per cent); no cuts 2 (0.5 per cent).