News | Published February 20 2020

Funding cuts make schools narrow curriculum says Ofsted chief

In a blog post, Amanda Spielman, the chief of Ofsted, has said that funding cuts have forced schools to reduce their curriculum offer and have left them unable to replace teachers when they leave.

Describing the “significant impact” of cuts to local authority budgets, Spielman identified languages, computing, design and technology and music as the subject areas which were most frequently cut due to funding pressures.

Spielman explained: “Many schools we visited were narrowing their curriculum, to the detriment of the education of all pupils, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Beyond this, she said funding pressures were felt most acutely by children with Special Education Needs. A key reason for this was the need for subject specialists to teach outside of their specialism and the inability of schools to replace specialists when they leave.

Detailing this, Spielman wrote: “In some schools, experienced teachers were replaced with less-experienced and lower-qualified staff. Schools also reported cutting back continuous professional development and removing teaching and learning responsibility points.

“In some schools, higher-level teaching assistants were being used to cover classes when teachers were absent, rather than the school paying for teachers to cover these lessons.

“In some cases, there was insufficient monitoring of the quality of education and support for the most vulnerable pupils, as we saw in the examples given above. This means that some schools are making the situation for pupils with SEND and their parents and carers harder and contributing to the fragmentation of local provision.”

Spielman’s argument was echoed by Stephen Rollett, a curriculum and inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, who said: “Let’s be clear that the blame lies with the government, which has caused the crisis by failing to fund schools properly and leaving them with no alternative other than to make cuts.”

After the blog post was swiftly deleted, Ofsted said it had been published “erroneously” and would be published again in a few weeks’ time, when a more detailed study on school funding is completed.

In order to form this study, Ofsted surveyed 201 heads and conducted 16 research visits to schools. These visits included interviews with significant stakeholders and comprised eight primary and eight secondary schools.

The narrowing of school curricula is a particular issue considering the introduction of Ofsted’s new inspection framework. 

The framework, which was first introduced in May 2019, places new emphasis on the breadth of school’s curriculum, exactly the thing that is being reduced by budget pressures.

Writing in an explanatory article in September of last year, Spielman said: “For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools.

“This time next year, Ofsted will begin inspecting early years providers, schools and further education providers under a new framework. It is my aim that the new framework places much more emphasis than the current one on the substance of education: the curriculum.”

In response to Spielman’s post, The Department for Education said it would comment more fully when the final report was published but asserted: “This government has announced the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade, giving every school more money for every child.”

In September, the government announced an investment of an extra £7.1 billion for schools across England over the next three years

While this investment was welcomed by the education sector, school unions warned that this new money would not cover the effect of previous cuts, and schools would still face a budget shortfall of “£2.5 billion.”

According to a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies last year, total school spending per pupil has fallen by eight per cent since 2010.

The majority of this reduction was caused by a 57 per cent fall in spending per pupil on services provided by local authorities. The government’s funding pledges, particularly their pledge to allocate an extra £4.3 billion to the schools budget for 2022-23 will lead to an increase of 7.4 per cent, still below the requisite amount to reverse the effect of the decade of cuts. 

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
February 20 2020

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