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Half of schools cut trips for pupils as funding crisis bites

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Half of schools have cut trips and visits this year because of funding pressures while a quarter are reducing subject choices at GCSE and A-level, a poll suggests.

Sixty-three per cent of schools had reduced the number of teaching assistants this year, according to the annual survey of head teachers and other senior teachers by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

The number of schools cutting trips and outings had more than doubled compared with last year’s survey, from 21 per cent to 50 per cent. The findings are published by the Sutton Trust, the social mobility charity.

Some schools are introducing four-day weeks for teachers to attract new members of staff.

Schools in the most disadvantaged areas were more likely to be affected by cuts to trips, with 68 per cent of head teachers of the most deprived schools reporting reductions compared with 44 per cent in other schools.

Last year 42 per cent of schools had lost teaching assistants to save money compared with 63 per cent this year.

Other savings were made by cutting IT equipment (42 per cent compared with 27 per cent last year) and support staff (40 per cent compared with 33 per cent last year). Twenty-six per cent reduced sports and extracurricular activities, up from 15 per cent last year.

Cuts to subject choices at GCSE were reported by 24 per cent of head teachers, up from 17 per cent last year, with the same number reported at A-level, up from 16 per cent.

The reduction in subjects could be due to struggles to recruit specialists or schools actively trying to save money by not hiring any.

A total of 71 per cent of head teachers reported difficulties in recruiting new teachers this year, with 26 per cent saying they had faced difficulties to a great extent. About 41 per cent had used their pupil premium — funding given to schools to support poorer pupils — to plug gaps in their general budget. This figure has increased from 33 per cent last year.

Carl Cullinane, director of research and policy at the Sutton Trust, said the polling “paints a deeply concerning picture of our schools”.

He added: “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 [with] the pandemic.”

There were 29 per cent fewer new entrants to postgraduate initial teacher training courses than needed last year. The figures were particularly acute for secondary schools, with 59 per cent of the overall target reached compared with 79 per cent in 2021-22.

Two schools are trying a four-day teaching week. Court Moor School, a secondary in Hampshire, will start a £300,000 two-year trial from September with all teachers working four days but continuing to receive full-time pay.

St Philip Howard Catholic Primary School in Hertfordshire launched a similar scheme this week, allowing staff one day a week off timetable for planning, preparation and assessment, and subject leader tasks, Schools Week reported.

Paul Jenkins, head of Court Moor School, said it had tried everything from an extra paid day off a year to free yoga classes and health checks to attract more teachers, adding: “But they don’t address the fundamental issue. When you’ve got great staff, you need to make it somewhere they want to stay. It’s not about yoga or free biscuits — it’s about having less time in the classroom.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools are in fact fighting on two fronts as they not only have to make difficult decisions about where to cut provision but are also struggling with a teacher recruitment and retention crisis caused by government policies which have eroded the real value of pay and worsened working conditions. The young people who are suffering the most are those in the most disadvantaged communities.”

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