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English primary schools cutting teacher numbers amid budget pressure, survey finds | School funding

Primary schools across England are having to shed staff and cancel trips and activities this year as rising inflation and falling pupil numbers cause a rapid deterioration in their finances.

A survey of more than 1,000 school leaders and teachers by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that three-quarters said their primary schools were cutting teaching assistant roles, while a third were also cutting teacher numbers.

The financial pressures extended to school activities, with half saying they were reducing class trips, sport and other extracurricular events, as well as reducing spending on computers and technology.

Pepe Di’Iasio, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report commissioned by the Sutton Trust showed the “increasingly desperate” position faced by schools, with the staff cuts meaning larger class sizes and less support for children with special needs.

“Primary schools are hit hardest because their per-pupil funding rates are so low and many are also seeing falling rolls because of a reduction in the number of primary-age children. Small primary schools are often on the brink of being financially unsustainable,” Di’Iasio said.

Primary school application figures published this week showed a further decline in enrolments in major population centres, such as London, Leeds and Kent.

Secondary school leaders also reported having to make staff cuts, while about one in four were having to reduce the number of subjects offered for GCSEs and A-levels.

The survey found many schools were using pupil premium funds – extra government funding for each child eligible for free school meals – to plug budget gaps.

Peter Lampl, the Sutton Trust’s founder, said: “The erosion of schools funding coupled with rising costs is having a major impact on the ability of schools to provide the support that low-income students need.

“It’s disgraceful that increasing numbers of school leaders are having to cut essential staff and essential co-curricular activities. The situation for primary schools in particular is one of rapid deterioration, with half of them having to use funding to plug gaps that should be used for poorer pupils.”

Despite the cuts, many schools are struggling to recruit teachers, with the Trades Union Congress pointing to figures showing there were 2,100 teacher vacancies in England towards the end of last year, compared with 355 in 2010.

Paul Nowak, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “Everyone can see the huge pressures on schools. After years of deep pay cuts and soaring workloads, teachers are being driven out of the profession.

“We can’t go on like this. We need a government that will treat teachers well and invest more in our schools so that every child can flourish.”

Di’Iasio said budget pressures were also partly behind the sharp rise in suspensions issued by schools in England, with Department for Education (DfE) figures showing a record 263,900 being pupils suspended for disciplinary reasons in the spring term in 2023.

“The whole tapestry of social and mental health support services around families and children has receded over the past 14 years because of budget pressures and increasing demand, and schools are left to pick up the pieces without sufficient funding.

“This means that behavioural issues often escalate to a point at which a suspension – or exclusion – is the only option that is left,” Di’Iasio said.

State schools permanently excluded 3,039 pupils in spring 2023, at a rate of 0.04% of all pupils. Before the pandemic about 0.03% of pupils were excluded.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The government is very clear it backs headteachers to use exclusions where required, so they can provide calm, safe and supportive environments for children to learn in.”

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