Current school funding levels are inadequate, say NEU members ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement
Lack of Government funding is having a major impact on schools and children’s learning, a survey of NEU members has found.
A snapshot survey by the National Education Union of 3,981 teacher members working in English state schools, carried out online in October 2023, reveals:
- 92% believe that current funding levels are not high enough to allow their school to employ enough teachers, or for other staff to support pupils’ learning.
- 85% believe their school is not able to provide appropriate learning resources for pupils because of current funding levels.
- Two-thirds (68%) of teachers and leaders say that investment in school buildings has been insufficient. Just 15% have seen enough investment in upkeep of their buildings.
School spending power has been cut since 2010. It is currently 6% below its level when David Cameron was elected. Primary class sizes are the highest in Europe, and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began more than forty years ago (1977).
Current funding levels and shortage of staff
Almost all respondents (92%) disagreed that “current funding levels are high enough to allow their school to employ an appropriate number of teachers and other staff to support pupils’ learning.” This includes almost three quarters (72%) who strongly disagreed with the statement. Only 5% felt that there is currently enough funding for appropriate staffing levels in their school.
Although all groups of teachers were overwhelmingly negative about the effect of funding levels on staffing, primary members felt even more strongly than others. Some 80% of primary teachers strongly disagree that funding is adequate to provide enough teachers and staff, compared to 65% of secondary and 63% of special-school teachers.
School funding levels do not allow for enough learning resources
Teachers’ feelings on funding levels with regard to learning resources are similarly negative to their responses on the underfunding of staff. Six out of seven respondents (85%) disagreed with the statement: “Current funding levels are high enough to allow my school to provide appropriate learning resources for our pupils.” This included a clear majority (54% of all respondents) who strongly disagreed with the statement. Only 7% agreed that funding levels are high enough for sufficient resourcing.
As with the question on staffing, there was a little variation by phase, with the strongest responses coming from primary members. Some 89% of primary teachers feel funding levels are too low to provide appropriate learning resources, compared to 86% of special-school teachers and 80% of those in secondaries.
There is also a smaller but noticeable relationship between age and dissatisfaction, with older teachers more likely than younger colleagues to say underfunding is affecting the provision of learning resources.
Teachers and leaders feel investment in school buildings has been inadequate
Over two-thirds (68%) of teachers and leaders in our survey feel that investment in the upkeep of school buildings has been insufficient. Although this figure is somewhat lower than for the two other questions in this survey, it still represents a strong condemnation of current funding levels with regard to school infrastructure, and contrasts with just one in six (15%) who feel there has been enough investment in the upkeep of their school buildings.
As with the other questions in this survey, negativity was strongest among primary teachers, 70% of whom disagreed with the statement “There has been enough investment in the upkeep of my school's building(s).” This compares to 66% of secondary teachers and 65% of teachers in special schools.
Respondents were keen to share their observations of disrepair in their school.
“The smell from the mouldy, stained carpet is horrendous. We have leaks and mould in a lot of rooms,” said a secondary teacher in Staffordshire. Another member wrote that “classroom windows can't open, and the heat is unbearable.”
A member in Norfolk adds, “The roof in the main building of our school leaks and every time it rains, we have to block off parts of the building to students as the floor gets very slippery.” A teacher in Coventry also has a leaky roof at their school: “It has ruined the plaster on the wall, the children's work and is a breeding ground for mould.” A primary school in Sheffield told us, “we need to put buckets around our classroom.”
Commenting on the findings of this snapshot survey, Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“This survey reveals widespread dissatisfaction with the effort Government is taking to properly fund and support schools. Clear majorities say funding levels are inadequate on all measures and very few members agree there is enough investment in the system.
“This is not a matter of perception. In 2020 we spent 4.3% of national income on education and the OECD average was 5% - and we know the UK share has fallen back since to under 4%.
“And to add insult to injury, the Department for Education has over-promised £370m to schools for next year, which schools won’t receive despite already making budget plans.
“The ongoing RAAC crisis is something that would not have happened if the Government had retained strategies for repairing the school estate back in 2010.
“This is a pattern of behaviour which shows that Government is not serious about education. We need to see a major shift and significant investment in schools. Our children deserve better.”
The online survey was conducted between 19-20 October 2023. We received responses from 3,981 members, which we then reweighted in line with national figures to control for gender, region, phase, age and level of deprivation in schools as measured by proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM).