Majority of primary schools ask parents for extra funds amid financial pressures

The majority of primary schools in England are asking for more contributions from parents due to rising financial pressures, a report has suggested.

At least 45% of senior leaders in schools have reported that the increased cost of living has damaged the quality of teaching and learning in their school, according to a survey.

Senior leaders are cutting spending on learning resources such as printed worksheets, materials for art and science and library books, as well as reducing targeted learning support, the report said.

Around half of senior leaders in schools are keeping their classrooms colder to reduce costs, it added.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report suggested schools are expecting their financial situations to worsen over the coming year, which will “intensify” the cuts further.

It warned that the gap in attainment outcomes between disadvantaged pupils and more advantaged peers is likely to widen due to the financial pressures facing schools.

The survey of 1,354 senior leaders in mainstream primary and secondary schools in England in April and May suggested more than two in five were expecting an in-year deficit in 2022/23.

Just under half of senior leaders in mainstream schools are expecting to have both an in-year deficit and needing to make cuts to provision in 2023/24.

The report, conducted in collaboration with Ask Research and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, suggested most schools have made cuts to provision in response to rising cost-of-living pressures.

It found that nearly three in five (58%) senior leaders in primary schools and 29% in secondary schools are seeking additional parental contributions to accommodate cost of-living pressures.

It added that more than half of senior leaders in schools – 55% of primary schools and 51% of secondary schools – report having colder classrooms.

The report, which also included survey findings from 87 senior leaders in special schools, suggested 62% of senior leaders in primary schools, 43% in secondary schools and 41% in special schools have cut spending on learning resources in response to the increased cost of living.

Report co-author Jenna Julius, NFER research director, 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.”

The NFER report suggested cost-of-living pressures could have “far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on pupils” unless urgent action is taken.

It warned: “Together with the additional pressures faced by disadvantaged pupils due to recent cost-of-living increases, this is only likely to lead to a widening of the gap in attainment outcomes achieved between disadvantaged pupils and their more advantaged peers.”

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Many schools face the prospect of having to make further savings. While they strive to minimise the effect on pupils, this inevitably has a negative impact on learning and the additional support they are able to provide to children with special educational needs.

“Schools serving disadvantaged communities do not even have the option of asking parents to help with the cost of resources as their families simply cannot afford to do so.

“The simple truth is that if the level of investment in education does not match rising costs this necessitates cuts. The Government has to invest more in education, including early years, special schools and post-16 provision, to ensure that the needs of every pupil can be met.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Schools face a twin challenge of juggling both their increased costs for things like energy and resources, and in supporting more children who may turn up hungry and not in a good place to learn.

“School leaders are doing their utmost to minimise the impact of these cost pressures upon children’s education, but this is a real challenge, and particularly difficult for those in more disadvantaged areas or with higher numbers of pupils with special education needs and disabilities.

“These findings give the Government notice that it must mitigate the impact of continuing inflation by offering the level of investment needed in schools in the autumn spending review in November.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We listened to schools and recognised the pressures they were facing in 2022-23, due to the challenges of high inflation.

“In the Autumn Statement, we announced that we would be investing an extra £2 billion into our schools this year and next, in recognition of those challenges. Following the additional £525 million in 2023-24 and £900 million in 2024-25 school funding will now be at over £59.6 billion next year – the highest level in history, as measured by the IFS.

“We are also bearing down on inflation and providing record financial support worth an average £3,300 per household. On top of this we have raised benefits – including Universal Credit – by 10.1%, increased the National Living Wage and are supporting families with food, clothing and other essential costs.”