Schools cutting everything from staff to stationery to balance budgets

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Reducing support staff, restricting stationery and hosting weddings: new findings reveal how more than six in 10 (64%) of the country’s school leaders plan to make essential savings over the next financial year, and how some are taking matters into their own hands to generate much-needed funds.

More than two-thirds (68%) of the schools facing budget cuts across England plan to reduce their number of support staff, while just under half (49%) are restricting the use of basic resources like stationery, according to new survey findings from The Key - an organisation providing leadership and management support to schools.

The data – taken from The Key’s annual State of Education report to be released in May, and weighted by Ipsos MORI – reveals that only 8% of school leaders expect to either achieve a surplus or to balance their budget without making any savings in the next financial year. More than a third (36%) say they will need to save over 5% of their expected costs to balance their budget.

The staffing budget is expected to take the biggest hit in two-thirds (66%) of the schools that need to make savings in 2017-18. It’s not just support staff who are at risk: more than a third (37%) of school leaders facing budget cuts say they expect to have to reduce teaching posts.

In the bid to generate additional income, school leaders report letting school buildings and facilities (42%), building partnerships with local businesses (13%) and even setting up on-site nursery provision (10%). Many are also linking up with nearby schools to share catering or cleaning contracts (25%) or curriculum resources (21%). Others cited sharing staff, furniture and even minibuses – not to mention hosting weddings and using qualified staff to provide fitness classes to the wider community.

As one headteacher at a primary school in Kent explains: “Schools have to look at themselves as businesses, the leaders as entrepreneurs who think creatively about what opportunities they can capitalise on. As well as setting up day-care provision and paid-for breakfast and after-school clubs, we also rent out our school hall most nights of the week for anything from church groups to weddings, birthday parties or language schools.

“All in all, our initiatives bring in between £200,000 and £300,000 a year and this gives us choices - choices that aren’t made for us by government. It’s amazing what you can achieve with some creativity, passion and willpower.”

Despite making such efforts, more than three in five (72%) school leaders are not confident in their school’s ability to generate additional income over the next 12-24 months.

Speaking about their school’s funding situation another school leader said: “We will do what we need to do to keep children safe. We have the expertise and experience to generate additional income but in the deprived area we operate from and in a 1950s building there are very few opportunities available to us. We do fundraise from parents and community with little income, but making ends meet will be an uphill struggle.”

The Key's findings come a fortnight after the government’s spring budget announcement unveiled a £320 million investment in free schools[1]. It also follows the NAO’s report highlighting that mainstream schools are set to experience an 8% real-term reduction in core, per-pupil funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20[2].

Financial worry has spread significantly among school leaders over the last 12 months: 51% consider budget pressures/lack of funding to be their biggest challenge for the coming academic year, in comparison to 31% of those surveyed in 2016[3]. Looking slightly further ahead, just under half (48%) of all school leaders lack confidence in their school’s ability to cover staffing costs in the next 12-24 months and a similar proportion (47%) aren’t confident they will be able to resource the curriculum adequately.

However, of the school leaders who have to make savings, almost half (45%) expect to see more resourcefulness in their school as a result.

Speaking about the survey, Fergal Roche, CEO of The Key, said: “These findings shed new light on the potential impact of the savings that many schools need to make. In every area, from staffing to stationery, school leaders are having to make difficult decisions about where to cut and restrict resources to balance their budgets, and it’s clear they anticipate further financial challenges ahead.

“While the school funding system should not rely on entrepreneurial efforts in schools to make ends meet, we have seen more and more school leaders looking for ways to generate extra income and make better use of their funding. It has been inspiring to hear so many accounts of staff and community going above and beyond to provide for their school; however, not every school will be able to open a nursery or host events. What all schools can do is play to their strengths and have the confidence to think creatively about the opportunities available in their different contexts. Seemingly smaller things, like joining with neighbouring schools to save money through a group telecoms contract, can make a big difference to squeezed budgets.

“Education is the powerhouse of our economy, providing skills and opportunity for local communities. We all have a role to play in ensuring schools have the support they need to carry out their role effectively and provide the best outcomes for their pupils.”

When school leaders were asked in The Key's survey what school funding change, if any, would have the most positive impact over the next three years, higher base-funding rates came out on top (29%), followed by higher levels of funding for special educational needs (22%) and higher capital funding (15%).

If it comes into effect[4], the national funding formula (NFF) – arguably one of the biggest changes to school funding on the horizon – will see approximately 11,000 schools set to gain money[5] following its formal roll-out in 2019/20. However, less than a fifth (18%) of school leaders across the country believe that the formula will make it easier for them to forecast and plan their budget effectively. Two-fifths (40%) do not expect budget forecasting to become any easier, and more than a quarter (26%) are unconvinced that the NFF will make any difference at all.

In The Key's survey, financial pressures were found to differ slightly by location and phase. While 71% of coastal schools say they need to make savings to balance their budgets in the 2017/18 financial year, the same is true for 63% of inland schools. By phase, secondary school budgets appear to be hit hardest with nearly half (49%) expecting to have to make savings of more than 5% of their expected costs compared to one-third (33%) of primaries.

While the majority of schools in every region expect to have to make savings over the 2017-18 financial year, one in four (25%) in the south east needs to save more than 8% of their expected costs to balance their budgets, in comparison to just over one in 10 (13%) in Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands.

To view the free guidance for schools on generating additional income, go to: 

For more information and interviews, please contact Jessica Bull on / 0203 9078 100 or 0203 9078 110 /


About the survey

The Key invited a sample of its members to complete its annual survey in February 2017. The questionnaire for this study was designed by The Key and conducted online using Survey Monkey. 1,182 school leaders from mainstream schools completed the full survey.

The data has been weighted to match the population profile of schools in England in terms of region, school phase and school type. The profile of The Key’s membership database is similar to the profile of schools across England. The data can therefore be taken to represent the views of teachers on The Key’s database, which in turn provides an indication of the opinions of leaders in mainstream schools across England.

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