Fact: School Budgets Are Dwindling – What Does It Mean?
According to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about 8 per cent in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18. In Wales, it fell by about 5 per cent over the same period.
The reason for higher cuts in England was driven by a combination of a greater fall in spending by local authorities and school sixth form spending alongside faster growth in pupil numbers.
This clearly poses a serious threat to pupil provision and the ability to deliver a ‘world-class education’ to pupils – the subject of countless speeches from a certain government minister.
But what does less funding mean in real terms? And how could it affect decision making in schools?
Dwindling school budgets in real terms
Despite the fact that Barnet Council is a ‘London borough of excellence’, the local authority has expressed concern over pupil provision:
“Critics could easily argue that Barnet Council has considerable verified data to suggest that Barnet is already delivering a world-class education to pupils, but increasing pressure on budgets with rising costs of services – which are not met by current and anticipated levels of income – means that there is a real risk that these standards will not be maintained.”
A number of contextual problems create additional challenges, which include:
- A high cost of living and expensive accommodation, making it difficult to attract staff.
- Proximity to other boroughs where the cost of living is lower.
- Approximately 16% of children under five live in the 30% most deprived areas.
- 19% of children under five (5,000 children) live in low-income families, earning less than 60% of the median income.
- 57% of pupils with a statement of Special Educational Needs or Educational Health Care Plan maintained by the council are placed in mainstream settings – a significantly higher level than nearby boroughs.
Unfortunately, challenges of similar complexity and difficulty are evident across England, not just in affluent and high-performing local authorities.
The possibility of tough, detrimental decisions
Reduced budgets and increased financial expenditure have now become the norm for many local authorities. But if per-child funding continues to decrease while costs increase, a number of tough decisions will soon have to be made, which could include:
- Reducing staff in both teaching and non-teaching positions
- Reducing the curriculum across all key stages
- Reducing teaching and learning innovation
- Splitting classes, resulting in non-specialist teaching
- Increasing class sizes
- Increasing teacher workloads
- Increasing headteacher/deputy headteacher class allocation
- Increasing pupil admission numbers
- Increasing fundraising to the detriment of leadership time
- Increasing requests for funding from parents
- Reducing support for struggling and vulnerable students
- Reducing specialist support staff such as counsellors and mentors
- Reducing budgets to fund alternative provisions for support
- Reducing budgets to fund mental health and emotional well-being support
- Reducing ICT budgets
- Reducing or stopping budget allocation for the school library
- Reducing spending for on-premises maintenance
- Reducing departmental and training budgets
- Reducing extra-curricular programmes
- Reducing emergency funds
For teachers concerned about dwindling school budgets, a petition has been created, which received the following response after reaching 10,000 signatures:
“There is more money going into our schools than ever before… we recognise the budgeting challenges schools face and that we are asking them to do more… We spend as much per pupil on state school education as any major economy in the world, apart from America.”