Over two-thirds (69%) of secondary school heads have had to cut teaching staff to save money, according to new polling published by the Sutton Trust today.

The survey of 1,678 teachers, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) for the Trust as part of their Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey, highlights how budget cuts are affecting schools across the country.

While a much smaller proportion (32%) of senior leaders in primary schools said they’d had to cut teachers, almost two-thirds of this group (72%) reported cutting teaching assistants. Two-fifths (41%) of primary and secondary school heads said they’d had to cut back on trips and outings, while over a half (55%) said they’d slashed spending on IT equipment.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the amount of per pupil spending in England’s schools fell by 8% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

The teachers were also asked about how they spend their pupil premium, which is additional money paid for every disadvantaged pupil in a school and intended to close the attainment gap. One quarter (27%) of secondary school heads said they used it to plug gaps elsewhere in their budget, most of this group said it was used to pay for teachers and teaching assistants instead. Heads in the most deprived schools were twice as likely to report using their pupil premium money to plug budget gaps as those in the least deprived schools (34% v 17%).

A majority (55%) of school leaders said that their pupil premium funding is helping to close attainment gaps in their school, with primary leaders more likely (58%) than secondary heads (50%) to say so. Of those who don’t think the pupil premium is having an impact, many said the funding is not enough to make an impact, or is being spent in other areas. Heads who reported having to plug budget gaps were less likely to say that attainment gaps were closing (62% v 40%). Many also pointed out the difficulty in closing their attainment gaps given factors outside the school gates.

When it comes to deciding which programmes and approaches to adopt to improve learning, the use of evidence continues to rise. Three-quarters (74%) of all senior leaders said they considered research evidence, with 70% of secondary school senior leaders citing the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. This is up 7 percentage points from 63% last year to 70% this year. Secondary teachers who reported using research evidence were more likely to report that their pupil premium money was proving effective (46% v 32%).

The Sutton Trust is urging the Government to address the funding issues and financial uncertainty that schools are facing. They would like the promised spending review to take place as soon as possible to provide funding clarity for schools, as well as continued support for disadvantaged pupils paid through the Pupil Premium.

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

“Our new polling adds to the growing evidence that the squeeze on school budgets is having a detrimental effect. Of particular concern is that schools are having to use funding for poorer pupils to plug gaps in their finances. Many are having to get rid of teachers to close these funding gaps and endangering efforts to improve opportunities for poorer young people.

It is good to see more and more schools using evidence – and particularly the Teaching and Learning Toolkit – to decide how to spend their pupil premium. Using evidence of what has worked in the past is the best way to judge what is likely to work in the future. So it is no surprise that those teachers who said they use research evidence were more likely to think their pupil premium money was proving effective.”


  • The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 200 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  • The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the leading independent provider of education research. Our unique position and approach delivers evidence-based insights designed to enable education policy makers and practitioners to take action to improve outcomes for children and young people. Our key topic areas are: accountability, assessment, classroom practice, education to employment, social mobility, school funding, school workforce and systems and structures. As a not-for profit organisation, we re-invest any surplus funds into commissioning self-funded research to further contribute to the science and knowledge of education research. www.nfer.ac.uk @TheNFER
  • 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. 1,678 practising teachers in the publicly funded sector in England completed the survey online between 1st-6th March 2019.
  • See the full polling

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