Survey reveals half of schools look to cut costs to balance budgets

26 November 2014

Browne Jacobson and ASCL today have released the results of a joint survey on school funding.

More than half (55 per cent) of school leaders are looking to reduce costs over the coming year, with the government’s funding policy and recent changes to special educational needs (SEN) provision cited for the growing pressure on school budgets by senior school staff. 

The findings in the annual survey of headteachers, principals, deputies, finance directors and school business managers by Browne Jacobson in partnership with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), is likely to lead to growing calls for a review of school funding policy.

Overall two-thirds of school leaders were concerned about the extra pressure the new SEN framework would place on schools; of these around one-third (31 per cent) are very concerned. As a result the majority (82 per cent) are preparing to divert funds from their overall budgets in order to meet the pressures placed by the new SEN framework.

Nick MacKenzie, education partner at Browne Jacobson and author of the School Leaders Survey 2014, said:

The growing financial pressure placed on the shoulders of thousands of school leaders up and down the country is palpable, leading to an environment of growing uncertainty and falling morale. The decision not to proceed with a fairer national funding formula for schools for the time being will have only added to the growing frustration felt by many school leaders. 

“Whilst the survey shows school leaders are increasingly exploring more avenues to balance the books, there is a real and growing concern over the impact on schools’ finances. In addition to the government’s funding policy there will be employer contribution increases to the Teachers Pensions Scheme next September, followed in 2016 by changes to National Insurance contributions which will heap more pressure on squeezed budgets. With an election next year, schools will be looking closely to see how the parties propose to help the system address these challenges.”       

ASCL General Secretary Brian Lightman said:                                                               

It is no surprise that funding is a growing concern for school leaders. Schools have been at the sharp end of far-reaching change, from the ongoing reforms to the curriculum and examinations, to the overhaul of the special educational needs funding. With these reforms come additional pressure on schools, not only in planning and preparation, but staff training, communication to pupils and parents, and managing the transition processes. All of this costs money.

“With the election looming, we are pressing all political parties to commit to a national funding system that ensures all schools are funded equitably, adequately and in the context of the demands required of them.

“However it’s not all doom and gloom. By nature school leaders are optimistic. Perhaps the fact that twice as many school leaders are positive about the educational prospects for their students is a sign that they are beginning to seize hold of the opportunity to play a leading role in developing a genuinely self-improving system.

Other findings from the survey of almost 470 school leaders revealed:

  • More than one-third (38 per cent) of schools have increased the number of fines issued to parents for taking their children on unauthorised leave

  • 42 per cent of school leaders have reported a fall in the number of applications made by parents since the new rules on unauthorised leave came into force

  • Two-thirds (64 per cent) report that staff morale has remained broadly the same or has improved over the last twelve months.

  • Around one-third (31 per cent) are seriously looking at carrying out a staff restructuring programme in the next twelve months

  • One in four school leaders (27 per cent) would like to borrow funds from the private sector

  • Eighty per cent of school leaders say the introduction of performance related pay (PRP) has had no effect on pupil outcomes with 78 per cent saying it has had no effect on recruitment and retention of staff

School leaders survey report 2014

School leaders survey summary