ALMOST TWO THIRDS (63 per cent) of school senior leaders in England report having to cut teaching assistants and half report cutting trips this year, according to new polling.

The survey of 1,428 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Sutton Trust as part of their Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, reveals a sharp increase in cuts to a range of activities in schools, along with difficulties in recruiting teachers.

The proportion of senior leaders reporting that they have cut trips and outings has more than doubled since last year, at 50 per cent compared to 21 per cent in last year’s survey. Schools in the most disadvantaged areas were more likely to be impacted by cuts to trips, with 68 per cent of leaders in the most deprived schools reporting cuts, compared to 44 per cent in the least deprived.

Those reporting cuts to teaching assistants has increased from 42 per cent in 2022 to 63 per cent this year. As well as teaching assistants and trips, senior leaders report having to cut IT equipment (42 per cent), support staff (40 per cent) and sports and extracurricular activities (26 per cent), all at higher rates than last year. In secondaries, senior leaders also report increased cuts to subject choice. At GCSE, a quarter are reporting cuts to subject choices available, up from 17 per cent last year. Similarly, a quarter (24 per cent) report cuts to A-Level subjects compared to 16 per cent last year.

The polling also reveals that 71 per cent of senior leaders report difficulties in recruiting teachers this year, with a quarter (26 per cent) saying they had faced difficulties to a great extent. This highlights that there has been no major improvement in the challenges faced by schools in recruiting teachers since 2019, when 70 per cent reported difficulties.

The polling also highlights that two in five (41 per cent) primary and secondary senior leaders report using their pupil premium – funding given to schools to support poorer pupils – to plug gaps in their general budget. This has increased from 33 per cent in 2022 and is the highest figure since the Trust began publishing polling on the issue in 2017, suggesting that schools are struggling to meet rising costs.

As schools continue to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and ongoing impacts of the pandemic, the Sutton Trust has called for increased investment in schools.

Carl Cullinane, Director of Research and Policy at the Sutton Trust, said: “Today’s polling paints a deeply concerning picture of our schools. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the continuing impacts 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. 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.It is also vital that the government does not lose sight of the importance of education recovery, and should urgently increase investment to ensure that no pupils are left behind.”

Commenting, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Sutton Trust report highlights the dire situation schools and colleges find themselves in due to decades of Government underfunding.

“Class sizes are at record levels – primary class sizes are the highest in Europe and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began more than 40 years ago. The education sector needs more money and needs it now. All children deserve to be taught in classes of fewer than 30 led by a qualified teacher.

“In 2022, the [UK] Government spent just 4.2 per cent of GDP on education compared with 5.6 per cent in 2010. High income countries spend an average of five per cent of GDP on education. The Government ultimately must decide what type of country it wishes us to be – a low-wage, low-skill, low-investment economy, or a high-investment, high-skill, high-productivity economy, leading to high wages for its citizens.”

* Sources: The Sutton Trust and National Education Union