New Sutton Trust polling reveals primary schools forced to cut teaching assistants, outings and equipment

68% of primary school senior leaders report receiving insufficient catch-up funding this year, with half (51%) reporting cutting teaching assistants, according to new polling released today.

The survey of 1,371 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Sutton Trust as part of their Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, reveals the continuing funding challenges faced by schools as a result of the pandemic, as well as soaring energy costs.

Overall, over half (57%) of headteachers in England report that the funding they received to help pupils recover from the pandemic has been insufficient this year. Funding issues are particularly pronounced in primary schools, with only 30% of primary heads saying funding has been sufficient, compared to 53% at secondary schools.

This lack of funding is impacting provision in schools. As well as teaching assistants, primary school heads also report having to cut support staff (35%) and IT equipment (32%). Sutton Trust research throughout the pandemic has highlighted a stark and ongoing digital divide, so access to technology for all children is essential. A quarter (25%) of primary school senior leaders also report that they have had to cut trips and outings, and 20% sport and extracurricular activities. In the wake of a pandemic that deprived many children of experiences outside the home, access to these activities and experiences has never been more important.

While fewer secondary heads reported these issues than in primaries, they are still facing challenges, with a significant number reporting cuts to teaching staff (24%), assistants (28%) and support staff (31%).

Today’s polling also reveals that a third (33%) of primary and secondary headteachers report using their pupil premium – funding given to schools to support poorer pupils – to plug gaps in their general budget. This is the same level as in 2021 but up substantially from 23% in 2019, suggesting that schools are struggling to cope with the continuing costs of the pandemic. The Trust is concerned that rising energy bills and cost of living may worsen this picture, with schools facing further budget pressures over the coming year.

A third (34%) of secondary heads report that one-to-one and small group tuition is their biggest priority for pupil premium spending this year. This has doubled over the last 12 months, from 17%, and more than trebled from 2020, when it was 10%. This reflects the government’s focus on tutoring through the National Tutoring Programme (NTP), as well as the strong evidence for the effectiveness of tutoring.

The polling also highlights that use of the Sutton Trust / Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit is common among secondary school senior leaders (70%), and has increased amongst classroom teachers (26% compared to 23% in 2021). 78% of senior leaders report using research evidence more generally to inform decision making.

As schools continue to deal with the impacts of the pandemic amid rising costs of living, the Sutton Trust has called for increased recovery funding, targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils.

In order to maximise the potential benefits of tutoring in closing attainment gaps, the government’s overhaul of the National Tutoring Programme must retain a focus on disadvantaged pupils, and increased flexibility for schools should not come at the expense of quality provision.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Today’s polling shows that schools are facing monumental challenges as a result of the pandemic, with schools having to cut crucial staff and support for pupils.

“With all these ongoing pressures, dedicated funding for poorer pupils through the pupil premium is more crucial than ever. It’s a disgrace that a third of heads still report using pupil premium funding to plug budget gaps. The government must make an enormous investment in education recovery so that all pupils are given a chance to succeed”.

Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

The Pupil Premium allows schools to provide targeted support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that they can achieve their potential. It’s really concerning that many schools are having to use this crucial funding to fill other gaps in school budgets, particularly as we know it’s these pupils whose learning has been most impacted by the pandemic.

“However, it is extremely encouraging to see that teachers and school leaders are making increased use of the evidence, including our Teaching and Learning toolkit, to guide their decision-making in the wake of Covid. Learning from what has and hasn’t worked in classrooms in the past can help to ensure that precious resources are used purposefully to improve outcomes for young people.”


  • The Sutton Trust was founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to improve social mobility in Britain.  The Trust has influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions; its programmes have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives; and it has published over 250 pieces of agenda-setting research.
  • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research. The NFER runs Teacher Voice Omnibus Surveys three times a year, in the autumn, spring and summer terms. The robust survey achieves responses from over 1,000 practising teachers from schools in the publicly funded sector in England. The panel is representative of teachers from the full range of roles in primary and secondary schools, from head teachers to newly qualified class teachers. 1,371 practising teachers in the publicly funded sector in England completed the survey online between 11th – 16th April 2022.

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