School budget squeeze ‘is reducing pupils’ subject choice’

CREDIT: This story was first seen on the BBC

Pressure on school budgets in England is leading to a narrower secondary curriculum, with teaching posts in some subjects being cut, unions have said

Teachers of subjects not included in the EBacc league table measure are the most at risk, research from the ATL and NUT unions has suggested.

Of 1,200 union members polled, before the ATL annual conference in Liverpool, 93% were “pessimistic” about funding.

The Department for Education says funding is at record levels.

But in recent months school governors, head teachers, MPs and teacher unions have highlighted mounting financial problems in England’s schools.

In December, the National Audit Office said funding was not keeping pace with rising national insurance and pension costs and the budget gap would reach £3bn by the end of the decade.

The two unions questioned teachers, support staff and head teachers last month – just over half were from secondary schools.

Almost three quarters (71%) of the secondary staff said there had been cuts to teaching posts in their schools in the past year, compared with 31% of the primary staff.

At secondary level, the greatest impact was on non-EBacc academic subjects, with 61% of respondents reporting cuts compared with 38% reporting cuts in EBacc subjects.

The English Baccalaureate or EBacc was brought in by the coalition government in 2010 for pupils achieving at least a GCSE C grade in English, maths, the sciences, a language and geography or history.

The percentages of pupils entering and achieving this standard are among measures used by government to determine a school’s performance.

The poll suggests pupils’ options are being narrowed throughout the secondary curriculum.

One London school has “shed” design technology at GCSE and removed religious education from the curriculum for 11-14-year-olds, according to a staff member.

Other teachers mentioned cuts to music, modern languages, drama, PE, and art, as well as to vocational subjects including engineering, construction, childcare and business studies.

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Overall, 64% of secondary staff said there had been a reduction in vocational subjects in their schools.

According to the report, a quarter of secondary staff said their schools had cut teaching hours for some courses, “clearly creating a potential threat to students’ chances of success”.

At one Hertfordshire school, the teaching hours for A-level maths have been cut to four hours a week from five, said a teacher.

Of the staff polled at both secondary and primary levels:

  • 76% said their school’s budget had been cut this year
  • 73% said there had been cuts to books and equipment
  • 41% had seen cuts to special needs provision
  • 18% reported cuts to English as an additional language.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted warned: “Unless the government finds more money for schools and fast, today’s school children will have severely limited choices at school and children from poorer families will be even further disadvantaged because their parents may struggle to provide the resources schools can no longer afford.”

NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Parents cannot sit back and watch their children’s education harmed by this bargain basement approach to schooling. More money must be found for our schools.

“Our government must invest in our country and invest in our children.”

The two unions are due to merge this year to form the National Education Union.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the government had “protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010”, adding that there was “significant scope for efficiency across the system”.

“We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost effective ways and make efficiencies.”

The spokeswoman said the new Schools’ Buying Strategy would help schools “save over £1bn a year by 2019-20 on non-staff spend”.

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