The Cost-Of-Living Crisis, together with existing pressures, is creating a self-perpetuating cycle of negative impact on pupils and schools.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Cost-Of-Living Crisis, together with existing pressures, is creating a self-perpetuating cycle of negative impact on pupils and schools; that is the findings from the latest research released by the National Foundation For Education Research (NFER). 

With unprecedented increases in energy costs, rapid increases in the costs of food and significant increases in the costs of housing via higher rents and mortgage costs; the cost-of-living has risen sharply across England since 2021 and the latest NFER report explores how the cost-of-living crisis is impacting schools, their staff and their pupils.

The Cost-Of-Living Crisis: Impact On Schools research carried out by the National Foundation For Educational Research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and conducted in collaboration with ASK Research aimed to explore how the cost-of-living is affecting schools in a series of three reports to establish:

  • What impact do teachers and senior leaders report cost-of-living pressures are having on pupils and their households?
  • How has provision in schools been affected by the cost-of-living increases?
  • What impact has the cost-of-living increases had on school staff?

Drawing on online surveys of over 2,700 teachers and senior leaders in April and May 2023 in mainstream primary and secondary schools and special schools; the NFER report found that the cost-of-living pressures, together with existing pressures is creating a self-perpetuating cycle of negative impacts on their pupils and settings:

  1. Increases in the cost of living have amplified the level of pupil well-being, mental health, welfare and financial needs in schools, particularly in special and disadvantaged mainstream schools. This has contributed to increased safeguarding concerns, behavioural incidents and pupil absenteeism.
  2. Due to a lack of capacity within and support from external agencies, schools are having to step in to meet these needs and ensure that pupils are still able to engage with learning, whilst simultaneously managing the direct impacts of cost-of-living increases on their settings.
  3. Teachers, TAs and support staff are contending with increased pupils needs, reduced resources and less support from external agencies. Their own household budgets are also under increased pressures. This appears to be exacerbating staff retention and recruitment challenges.
  4. Cost-of-living pressures are making it more difficult for schools to offer competitive salaries to attract new staff to the sector. Vacancies are unfilled or filled with staff who do not necessarily have comparable skills and experience, exacerbating the pupil need and resourcing pressures outlined above.
  5. Together, this means there is reduced capacity for early intervention to address pupil needs and by the time pupils access external services, their needs are more extreme. This means external services are then even less able to meet pupil need, exacerbating the cycle further.

Key Findings of the Cost-Of-Living Crisis: Impact On Schools

Report 1: Impact on Pupils and their Families

  • Senior leaders report that cost-of-living pressures have increased both the number of pupils requiring additional support and the level of need among these pupils.
  • Pupil well-being and mental health is an increasing and pressing concern for schools, particularly in special schools and disadvantaged schools.
  • There have been significant increases in the numbers of pupils requiring welfare and financial support due to cost-of-living pressures.
  • Schools report an increase in safeguarding concerns, behaviour incidents and pupil absence because of the increased cost of living, particularly in secondary schools and more disadvantaged schools.

Report 2: Impact on School Provision

  • The majority of Teachers and Senior Leaders are having to make cuts to meet the direct costs of the cost-of-living pressures
  • Four-fifths of schools have made cuts to provision in response to the increased cost of living.
  • Most senior leaders are concerned about their ability to fully meet the needs of their pupils
  • and having sufficient budget to fully support pupils with SEND.
  • More than half of schools are keeping classrooms colder and seeking additional parental contributions.

Report 3: Impact on Teaching Staff

  • Less than half of teachers can afford to pay an unexpected expense outright.
  • Teachers are making similar lifestyle and spending changes to the wider British population in response to pressures on their finances.
  • The majority of schools report TAs are taking second jobs alongside their TA role for the first time especially among special schools (82% of senior leaders from special schools report that some TAs are taking second jobs on for the first time compared to 75 and 72 per cent of secondary and primary senior leaders respectively.

NFER 5 key recommendations of the Cost-Of-Living Crisis: Impact On Schools

Recommendation 1: The Government should extend the current eligibility for free school meals. At the absolute minimum, this should involve uprating the income threshold for eligibility to reflect inflationary pressures since 2018/19.

Recommendation 2: In the short-term, schools need greater financial support to address pupils’ pressing well-being and welfare needs, alongside meeting the additional direct costs (e.g., energy and school meal costs) associated with the increased cost of living.

Recommendation 3: In the medium term, ensuring increased capacity and responsiveness of children and young people's mental health services (CYPMHS) and other services around families is needed to ensure that pupils can access the appropriate support and specialist services in a timely manner, rather than schools having to step in to fill those gaps in support.

Recommendation 4: While the SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan already sets out next steps for improving provision for pupils with additional needs, it should be prioritised and accelerated to ensure that schools and pupils get access to the urgent help they require as soon as possible.

Recommendation 5: The Government should prioritise the refresh of the teacher recruitment and retention strategy and extend its scope. A wider education workforce strategy is needed that has a long-term focus, and includes teaching assistants, school support staff and tutors as well as teachers and leaders. For wider support staff, this should include looking at whether pay is competitive enough to attract and retain sufficient high-quality staff.

You can read the full Cost-Of-Living Crisis: Impact On Schools NFER report here.



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