Survey shows large cuts to outings, teaching assistants and GCSE and A-level choices, reflecting ‘decades of government underfunding’.
Half of school leaders in England say they are having to cut school trips and outings, with children in disadvantaged areas more likely to lose out, according to polling.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of senior leaders who took part in the survey are having to cut teaching assistants, while a quarter are reducing sports, extracurricular activities and the number of GCSE and A-level subject choices available to their pupils.
The survey of more than 1,400 state school staff, carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on behalf of the Sutton Trust educational charity, indicates there has been a sharp increase in cuts to activities and support staff over the last year.
The proportion of senior leaders cutting trips and outings has more than doubled since last year (from 21% to 50%), with 68% of leaders in the most deprived schools reporting having to make cuts, compared with 44% in the wealthiest.
Those cutting the number of teaching assistants went up from 42% in 2022 to 63% this year, while the proportion having to make cuts to subject choices available to pupils went up from 17% for GCSEs and 16% for A-levels to about a quarter in 2023.
Two out of five school leaders (41%) polled admit they are having to use pupil premium money – funding intended to improve the educational outcomes of the most disadvantaged – to cover shortfalls in their overall budget. The proportion has gone up from 33% last year and is the biggest since the Sutton Trust began polling for its Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey in 2017.
Carl Cullinane, the director of research and policy at the Sutton Trust, said the survey revealed a “deeply concerning” picture. He said: “In the midst of a cost of living crisis and the continuing impact of the pandemic, schools are having to cut essential staff and activities for pupils.
“Funding for poorer pupils through the pupil premium is more important than ever in the context of these pressures. It is deeply concerning that increasing numbers of schools report having to use their pupil premium funding to plug budget gaps.”
Cullinane continued: “It is vital that this funding is used to narrow the gaps in progress that have opened alarmingly in the wake of the pandemic. The government must urgently review the funding given to schools, particularly those in the most deprived areas, in light of these trends.”
The backdrop to the cuts is the long-running teacher recruitment crisis, which shows no sign of easing. Almost three-quarters (71%) of those polled said they were having difficulties recruiting teachers this year – with a quarter (26%) having faced difficulties “to a great extent” – up from 70% in 2019.
The shadow schools minister, Stephen Morgan, said: “Children are missing out on the enrichment brought by school trips, sports, drama and are having their subject choices at GCSE limited because of the government’s continued neglect of our schools.”
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the Sutton Trust report exposed the impact of “decades of government underfunding”.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the crisis was severe and worsening. “The young people who are suffering the most are those in the most disadvantaged communities. The government’s insistence that an extra £2bn for school funding in 2023-24 will fix every funding problem is at odds with reality.”
Members of the National Education Union are due to go out on strike on Thursday and again next Tuesday in pursuit of their fully funded, above-inflation pay claim, as industrial action threatens to spread to other teachers’ unions who have also rejected the government’s latest offer.
A Department for Education spokesperson said school funding next year would be at its highest level in history in real terms thanks to an additional £2bn of investment for both 2023/24 and 2024/25, adding: “Every school in England is set to benefit from this boost, which will support schools with salary uplifts, as well as things like school trips and essential learning materials.”TIOB News