Nearly half of schools in England report in-year deficit in new cost-of-living survey

Press Release

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Almost half of primary schools and special schools (at 49 and 48 per cent) and two-fifths of secondary schools (at 41 per cent) in England had or were expecting an in-year deficit in 2022/23, according to a new report.

Schools are only expecting the situation to worsen next year with just under half of mainstream schools (50 per cent primary and 42 per cent secondary) and two-fifths (39 per cent) of special schools expecting both to have an in-year deficit and needing to make cuts to provision in 2023/24[i].

Results from NFER’s report, Cost-of-living crisis: Impact on schools - School Provision [PDF], also suggest more than half of primary schools are asking parents for extra funds to accommodate cost-of-living pressures[ii].

In the study, conducted in collaboration with ASK Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, NFER recently asked more than 2,500 senior leaders and teachers in mainstream schools, and more than 100 in special schools, a series of questions to understand the impacts of cost-of-living pressures on schools[iii].

Almost half of school leaders reported that the cuts their schools are making due to the cost-of-living pressures are having a negative impact on teaching and learning in their setting. Further, the cuts which schools are making in response to cost-of-living pressures are also affecting provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), with widespread concern among senior leaders of all phases about their ability to fully meet the needs of their pupils[iv].

NFER Research Director and report co-author, Jenna Julius, said:

“In the short-term, schools need greater financial support to help meet the additional direct expenses associated with the increased cost-of-living such as energy and school meal bills.

“Teachers and senior leaders, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools, report their learning provision has been negatively impacted by cuts being made in response to increased costs. For example, 62 per cent of primary schools, 43 per cent of secondary and 41 per cent of special schools report cutting spending on resources such as printed worksheets, materials for art and science and library books.”

Director of ASK Research, Amy Skipp, said:

“The cuts being made in response to cost-of-living pressures in special schools are extremely concerning particularly as they include core parts of the support for pupils with SEND, to maximise their development, independence and quality of life as well as providing respite for families. For example, almost three-tenths (28 per cent) of special schools report cutting their core specialist school offer, which includes the provision of hydrotherapy, physiotherapy and independence activities.”

Nuffield Foundation Programme Head, Ruth Maisey said:

“We know that there are lingering effects of the pandemic including a wider disadvantage gap, increased absence from school, and poorer mental health and wellbeing. Schools are only able to tackle these issues if they have sufficient funds. While failure to adequately support young people risks their issues becoming entrenched and stores up considerable problems for future society.”

Other findings and recommendations:

  • Only around a fifth of schools have not made cuts to any areas of their provision in response to the increased cost-of-living.
  • The cuts which schools are making in response to cost-of-living pressures are affecting provision for pupils with SEND. While teaching assistants (TA) often play a key role in supporting pupils with SEND, almost half (47 per cent) of primary schools, 32 per cent of special schools and 28 per cent of secondary schools report cutting TA numbers or hours.
  • While the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan already sets out next steps for improving provision for pupils with additional needs, it should be prioritised and accelerated to ensure that schools and pupils get access to the urgent help they require as soon as possible.

This paper is the second in a series of three cost-of-living reports being published in September. The first focused on the impact on pupils and families and the third will be published on September 21 focusing on school workforce issues resulting from cost-of-living pressures.

Notes to Editors:

[i] The overall schools budget is set to increase by a further £3.5 billion for 2023/24 and £1.5 billion in 2024/25. The Department for Education (DfE) has also announced £482.5 million in 2023/24 and £827.5 million for schools in 2024/25 as part of funding announced in July 2023. This is expected to be funded from elsewhere in the DfE budget.

[ii] Over half (58 per cent) of primary schools and around a third of secondary (29 per cent) and special schools (32 per cent) are seeking additional parental contributions to accommodate cost-of-living pressures. This is happening to the greatest extent in least disadvantaged schools, where parents are most likely to be able to afford this.

[iii] NFER collected data via an online survey sent to all state-funded mainstream primary and secondary schools and all special schools in England in April and May 2023. We received responses from 1354 senior leaders and 1317 teachers in mainstream schools as well as 87 senior leaders and 41 teachers in special schools. Mainstream surveys are weighted to be nationally representative of schools in England. Special school surveys are not weighted due to the relatively small response rate achieved.

[iv] 70 per cent of primary, 64 per cent of secondary and 49 per cent of special senior leaders report not feeling confident that their school is able to fully meet the needs of all their pupils.