Briefing paper: selling to schools September 2020

The Prime Minister recently confirmed that schools in England have started to receive the increase in funding that he promised previously.  Teachers have also been told they are getting a higher pay rise than they have had in recent years.

But at the same time there are complaints that the level of teachers’ salaries is still below that which was received in 2010 when the austerity package began.

So the question is, what impact does the PM’s announcement have on the amount of money schools have to spend on resources this year. And how will it affect school managers’ attitudes towards spending the money they have?

As we know, government spending on schools is often erratic.  For example, there was a fall of 6% in real terms in secondary school spending per pupil between 1992–93 and 1995–96.  The Blair government of 1997 to 2007 saw a huge increase in education spending.

Thus from 1999 onwards, spending per pupil grew at over 5% per year in real terms. As a result secondary school spending per pupil grew from £3,600 in 2000, to £6,000 per pupil, in 2010, a rise of 66%.  Primary school spending showed a similar rise.

However, between 2011 and 2015, although spending per pupil rose by 7% in real terms in primary schools it fell by about 3% in secondary schools (much of this due to a decline in sixth form funding.)   Then from 2016 to 2018, school spending was cut in real-terms cut of around 4%.

But at the same time something else was happening.     

In the early 2000s there was a baby boom and it is expected that there will get over 400,000 more pupils and students in schools in 2027 than there were 2018.  Since funding is mostly given on a payment by child basis, that means more and more money for schools.

However there is a new problem, because the teacher shortage is getting worse and worse.

It is true that for several years the number of teachers employed has been rising.  But, that rise has been tiny compared with the number of teachers needed to keep pace with the population growth.

Which means that although schools’ incomes are going up (because these are based on the number of pupils and students) the expenditure on salaries is coming down because there are fewer teachers to pay.

Between 2010 and 2018, the number of primary school teachers rose by 20,000 to around 220,000. However, since pupil numbers rose at 17% over the same periiod the number of teachers has fallen relative to the number of pupils in primary schools.

In secondary schools, the problem is worse as in that period teacher numbers actually declined by 20,000.

Now that might not matter if there was every chance of employing more teachers in secondary schools as the student numbers rise.   But there is absolutely no sign of this happening, despite constant advertising campaigns by the government’s advertising agencies.

Obviously this does not affect school income, because that is based on pupil and student numbers not teacher numbers, so effectively schools are getting a second increase in their income because they cannot spend the same amount as before on teachers.

Faced with this, and with Ofsted failing to inspect schools regularly because of dramatic cuts to its budgets during the austerity programme, many schools are seeking alternative ways of teaching.

Activities that can be work with a large number of pupils or students but need less staff (such as the mile a day walk, or increased levels of work based around computers) are becoming popular.  Other alternatives involve closing the school on Friday afternoons to pupils or students while designating that time as the “Staff preparation time” for all teachers.

There seems to be no end to the recruitment failure issue given that the employment rate for graduates remains consistently high.  It is of course possible that as a result of the pandemic more graduates than normal might switch from industry to teaching, but there is no sign of this happening at the moment.

For advertisers this gives an opportunity to promote anything that makes the administration of the school and the teaching of pupils and students more efficient. On-line learning, computerised programs, even book learning, are all now on the cards.

This is not to suggest that schools will welcome being reminded that they have fewer staff than they would normally have. But it does mean that advertisements that can be written in a way to suggest that it allows students to learn without a teacher present (using euphemisms such as “home learning” and “independent learning”) are being looked at with new enthusiasm.

There is no chance of a return to the old normal of all schools having a full compliment of staff. It will still be true in some places, but only some. Most are now diverting money from the salary fund, to buying resources.