Following research conducted by school inspectors at the request of the House of Commons public accounts select committee, it has been confirmed that the most common way in which schools have been balancing their budgets is by cutting teaching assistant posts.
This finding is different from the popular belief that schools have cut spending on resources, but is in line with information gathered informally by schools.co.uk.
It is also in line with the finding of a survey in The Independent which reported in March 2018 that 80% of headteachers have been forced to cut back on teaching assistants due to lack of funds.
The government’s response throughout has always been that “schools had more money than ever before in the history of the country” as Damien Hinds put it.
This is undoubtedly true, but the increase in funds for schools has not remotely kept pace with the increase in the pupil and student population which is continuing to rise, and which is the source of the schools getting more money (since funding is made available per child).
But at the same time the shortage of teachers has grown inexorably because of the decline in salaries (relative to inflation), meaning that even schools that want to keep up their teacher numbers are finding that difficult, unless they are in the elite group of schools.
Thus savings are made on salaries (which account for 75% to 80% of school spending), and additional funding is diverted into resources which allow teachers to set more homework which is marked by computer systems, and more teaching is done through computerised systems which allow teaching in larger classes.
The research also found that cutting teaching assistant posts was the most common initial response head teachers made to financial pressures.
Of course this is not the route that every school has taken, and some are continuing using traditional methods in the hope of being able to recruit more teachers next time around. But the number of students taking teacher training related courses is in decline, and thus a lot of schools are changing their approaches and buying in resources that help them respond to the new situation.
In the survey 41 per cent of primary school head teachers and 27 per cent of secondary school head teachers described the changes they had made as a result of the cuts as “major”.
Quite often cutting staff is not through choice, however, but simply because there are no suitable applicants available for job because of the modest salaries.