Pupils are being denied careers advice at a time of record youth unemployment, schools are scrapping projects to help the neediest children catch up on their reading, and teachers of music, art and sport are losing their jobs, a Guardian investigation into the impact of cuts on education reveals.
The education secretary, Michael Gove, claimed last year that the government was ‘protecting the frontline’ and the coalition says schools and colleges will manage to save £1bn between now and 2014 just by trimming back-office functions.
However, research by the Guardian indicates that shrinking budgets are already significantly reducing the range and quality of education on offer to all pupils across England, from toddlers to teenagers. Even schools in deprived neighborhoods are having to make swingeing cuts, despite receiving the pupil premium, which this year has equated to an extra £488 for each child who receives free school meals.
The Guardian spoke to scores of associations representing education workers and requested figures from councils through the Freedom of Information Act. In schools, colleges and neighbourhoods, the Guardian found cases illustrating what the associations said was happening. The investigation shows:
• At a time of record youth unemployment, thousands of school careers advisers are being laid off and many others are having their hours cut, leaving teenagers to finish school and college without official guidance on their next move.
• Headteachers are cutting music, art and sports teachers and the hours pupils spend in these lessons. At some schools, budgets for these subjects have been slashed by up to 80%.
• Schools are ending or cutting funds for an initiative lauded by researchers that offered one-to-one tuition for pupils falling behind in reading, writing and maths.
• A grant that pays for sixth formers to receive help with their university and college choices and take part in debating and drama clubs has been severely cut, with some institutions receiving a quarter of what they got last year.
• After-school clubs and school holiday play schemes are closing or under threat, creating havoc for working parents and those with limited budgets for childcare.
• Millions of pounds have been stripped from funds needed by local authorities to repair school buildings, just when the number of children starting school is due to rise by 10%. In some parts of the country, councils have just over a quarter of what they had to spend last year.
• A poll for the Guardian showed 43% of schools had to cut one or more subjects, courses or services. The Key, a national education support service, questioned 1,516 teachers and head teachers. Just over a quarter said they had closed a school club, while 11% said they had reduced their sports budgets. A further 8% had cut music classes.
The Institute of Career Guidance is warning that careers advice for young people is "becoming extinct". Unison, the trade union that represents careers advisers in education, has found that thousands have been made redundant and many others have had their hours cut.
Constrained school budgets and the end of the Connexions service mean pupils are being denied face-to-face help and instead being directed towards websites. At one secondary school in Kent that the Guardian spoke to, only teenagers with special needs are to be given careers advice. One in five 16- to 24-year-olds are out of work in the UK, and advisers fear a further rise in the number of young people not in education, employment or training.
Art, music and sports teachers are losing their jobs or having their teaching hours and budgets cut. The National Society for Education in Art & Design, which represents art teachers in the UK, said the subject was "staring into the abyss".
Langdon Park School in Tower Hamlets, east London, a specialist sports college, had its sports grant cut by 80% this year. Music services in Hounslow, west London, and Bolton have been hit by 10% cuts to central government grants this year. The services provide teachers, instruments and free tuition.
At one secondary school in Cheshire, the head of music has been made redundant and the two youngest year groups are, as of this year, taught music for only one hour every fortnight, rather than every week.
Teenagers from low-income homes are likely to suffer the most from a 75% cut to the entitlement funding grant, which helps sixth-formers to receive pastoral care, take part in debating and drama clubs and receive help with their university and college choices. Yet headteachers argue that the grant gives sixth-formers a more rounded education and something to discuss on their university applications.
The Guardian\’s analysis shows schools are ending or reducing one-to-one tuition for pupils falling behind in reading, writing and maths. Researchers have proved that the initiative accelerates pupils\’ progress and gives them confidence. A survey for the Guardian showed 91 of 1,516 teachers and headteachers had ended or cut the scheme. Hertfordshire county council said fewer schools in its area were now giving one-to-one tuition. They were concentrating on smaller group work instead.
The Department for Education says schools still receive their grant for one-to-one tuition, but it is no longer ringfenced and can be spent on other areas.
Thousands of nurseries, children\’s centres, after-school clubs and holiday play schemes are closing. The manager of a play scheme for children from Peckham and Dulwich in south London said she was finding it nearly impossible to secure a grant to continue. After-school clubs are having to close because parents can no longer afford the fees.
Funds to repair school buildings have been dramatically cut, despite the fact that the construction firm Laing O\’Rourke says the condition of most schools has deteriorated in the last five years and many buildings are past their life expectancy.
Responses to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Guardian reveal that Warrington council\’s funds for repairs to its children\’s services buildings have dropped to £4.6m from £17.2m last year. Stockport\’s funds have fallen to £8.7m from £20m between 2009-10 and 2010-11. In some parts of the country, such as Stockton-on-Tees, more than a third of the school estate is in urgent need of repair.
The government says it is now focusing on addressing "urgent maintenance needs and meeting demographic pressures". The chancellor, George Osborne, has allocated an additional £600m for school buildings.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned that the cuts uncovered by the Guardian would lead to "England\’s long tail of under-achievement getting longer". She feared the most vulnerable would suffer the most and fall further behind. Gove had been disingenuous in assuming the frontline would be protected, she said.
An education department spokeswoman said spending on schools had been "relatively protected". She said it was up to headteachers to make the decisions they think are best for their pupils. "It is important that schools should be able to make savings on procurement and back-office spending in order to invest resources in teaching and learning." Schools with the most deprived intakes were likely to see real-terms increases in funding, she said.
However, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found just 5% of primary schools and 2% of secondary schools would see a real-terms increase.
• In the 2010 spending review, the government announced a freeze, in cash terms, of funding per pupil.
• Schools have been asked to find £1bn in savings between 2010-11 and 2014-15 from back-office functions and procurement
• But schools also receive £488 per pupil on free school meals this year – the pupil premium. This will rise to £600 in April.
• The government has pledged that no school will see more than a 1.5% per pupil funding reduction in 2012-13 budgets, compared to 2011-12. (This is before the pupil premium is added.)
• The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report in October that found spending on education between now and 2014-15 will fall by 13% – the fastest fall in any four-year period since the 1950s.
• The same report found that almost three-quarters of primary schools in England and about 90% of secondary schools will see a real-terms cut over the next year. Just 5% of primary schools and 2% of secondary schools will see a real-terms increase.
• Between 2011 and 2015, pupil numbers in state nurseries and primary schools are projected to increase by 9%. Pupil numbers in secondary schools will continue to decline until 2016.