Underfunding of schools resulting in increased class sizes for 62% of secondary schools in England, according to new research
New research by the School Cuts coalition of unions (NEU, NAHT, ASCL, UNISON, GMB and Unite) shows that class sizes are rising in the majority of secondary schools in England as a result of the government’s underfunding of education.
There is a particular problem in secondary schools because of a shortfall of £500m a year to funding for 11 to 16-year-olds, between 2015/16 and 2019/20, plus the deep cuts to sixth form funding (over 17% per pupil since 2010).
Sixty-two per cent of secondary schools in England have increased the size of their classes in the last two years (2014/15 to 2016/17). In some authorities, this has had a dramatic effect. In York, secondary schools have an average of three more students in every class.
It is also striking that the five areas with the largest secondary school classes have all seen an increase in the last two years – Barnsley, Rutland, Thurrock, Newham and Leicester. This shows the Government is failing in its stated aim to even out the differences in education.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have repeatedly warned that schools have had to increase class sizes because of funding pressures and here is yet more evidence that this is the case. It is the last thing they want to do but they have no other choice because they have to reduce staffing numbers and that inevitably affects the teacher-to-pupil ratio. Larger classes mean less individual support for students, and put more pressure on teachers at a time when we desperately need to reduce workload.”
Karen Leonard, GMB national officer, said: “As class sizes increase and targeted professional support by teaching assistants and other support staff is cut, once again it is the pupils who lose out. If we don’t stop these cuts, we run the risk of lessons reverting to a Victorian ‘one size fits all model where any child with additional needs, gifts or talents or just needing a bit of extra support simply won’t get it. Talent will be wasted, additional needs will not meet and a generation of children will not have the opportunity and support to reach their potential.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The government’s own figures show that an extra 654,000 school places will be needed in England by 2026, to meet the nine per cent rise in pupil population. 91 per cent of schools face real-terms budget cuts compared to 2015/16 at a time when costs are rising and pupil numbers are growing. Not only that but the cuts to front-line classroom posts combined with a rise in pupil-to-classroom teacher ratios, mean bigger classes and less individual attention for children.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Time and again we are hearing about the consequences of the Government’s inadequate funding of our schools and 6th form colleges. Larger class sizes means less individual attention for children. Our children and young people deserve an education that is properly funded and resourced. For many it is their only chance of an education and it cannot be ruined by Ministers who believe starving schools of cash is either acceptable or workable.”
Jon Richards, UNISON head of education, said: “It’s a sorry situation when rising class sizes are happening in sync with cuts to school support staff. Fewer support staff means more work for already hard-pressed teachers. Over the past five years, secondary schools have seen a 10% cut in school technicians and an 8% cut in teaching assistants. This is a double whammy for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils, who can face greater challenges in larger classes and for whom support staff are a lifeline.”
Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary at Unite, said: “The education and wellbeing of future generations is being harmed by cuts to school budgets. Schools across the country are being forced to cut staff, leading to less educational support for children and bigger class sizes. The Government should be investing in our schools to give young people the best start in life and the best chance possible to fulfil their potential.”