Thousands of English schools in grip of funding crisis plan redundancies

‘Unprecedented’ deficits will force heads to make ‘catastrophic’ cuts and reduce support for vulnerable pupils, NAHT warns

Thousands of schools in England are drawing up plans to make staff redundant in the face of a crippling funding crisis, and in many cases will also have to cut mental health support and Covid catch-up tuition, according to findings from one of the largest surveys of school leaders in recent times.

Two-thirds (66%) of the 11,000 school leaders who took part in the poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said they will have to make teaching assistants redundant or reduce their hours, while half (50%) are looking at cutting the number of teachers or teaching hours as they grapple with rising costs.

The NAHT said the impact of such cuts would be “catastrophic”, leading to larger classes and less support for vulnerable pupils with the greatest needs. “The anger and desperation I am hearing from my members is unprecedented,” said the NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman, who added: “This cannot be allowed to happen.”

Almost half (47%) of those who took part in the survey said they would be forced to cut back on counselling, therapy and mental health support in schools, while nearly a third (31%) are considering reducing the number of children receiving tuition as part of the government’s Covid recovery plans.

The NAHT said pupils in need of extra support, many with special educational needs, would be among those worst affected by cuts, with more than four out of 10 (44%) school leaders planning to reduce spending on targeted interventions for students. Speech and language therapy is also at risk.

The union, whose members work mainly in primary schools, also warned that many headteachers would no longer be able to afford to give extra help to families hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, including breakfasts and assistance with clothing and laundry.

Over half (54%) of those surveyed warned their school would go into deficit this academic year, without cuts. Next year the situation looks set to deteriorate further with more than nine in 10 schools warning they will not be able to balance their budgets without drastic action.

The NAHT said schools are facing “a perfect storm” of eye-watering energy bills, spiralling costs and the additional burden of an unfunded pay increase this year. “With no fat left to cut following a decade of austerity, many thousands of schools are now looking at falling into deficit unless they make swingeing cuts. Education is truly in a perilous state,” said Whiteman.

“The responses to this survey represent a significant proportion of the education profession – leaders out there in schools, on the frontline, who are seeing the true desperation of the situation at hand. They do not raise the alarm lightly – when they speak, the government must listen. We must see urgent action on education spending ahead of the next budget update.”

The chancellor is due to give his autumn statement on 17 November when he is expected to set out a programme of tax rises and spending cuts totalling £60bn. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, however, school funding is already expected to be 3% less in real terms in 2024/25 than it was in 2010.

Meanwhile, the NAHT and other teaching unions have revived the School Cuts website, which helped make school funding a key issue at the 2017 general election. A fully updated website will be launched on Tuesday with new projections that show 90% of schools with comparable data will have lower per pupil funding in real terms in 2023-24 than in 2022-23, with real terms per-pupil funding set to be cut by £147 over the same period.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Schools have been on their knees for too long and cannot weather yet another age of austerity. The government must change course on education funding and invest in our futures.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We understand the challenges facing schools driven by high inflation. To support them at this time, we are providing schools with £53.8bn this year in core funding, including a cash increase of £4bn for this financial year. This is a 7% per pupil increase in cash terms across schools and high needs.

“All schools will benefit from the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, reducing how much they need to spend on their energy and giving them greater certainty over their budgets over the winter months. We are also providing schools with tools and information to help get the best value for money from their resources.”

Contributor

Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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