Schools need to look again at staffing, auditors find

31 Mar 11
Schools need to re-examine their use of teachers and teaching assistants if they are to meet the coming financial challenges, the Audit Commission has said
By Vivienne Russell

31 March 2011

Schools need to re-examine their use of teachers and teaching assistants if they are to meet the coming financial challenges, the Audit Commission has said.


Three-quarters of the £35bn spent on schools in 2009/10 went on staff, who make up one of the country’s largest public sector workforces.

Revenue spending on schools has risen by 28% in real terms over the past seven years. Since 1997, the number of teachers has increased by 8% but the number of pupils has fallen by 2%, the commission found. Schools also now employ more non-teaching staff than they did seven years ago, with the number of teaching assistants rising by 90% since 2003. Teachers made up three-quarters of the workforce in 2003 but this had fallen to just over two-thirds in 2010.

Audit Commission chair Michael O’Higgins said every school in the country faced the challenge of tightening budgets. He noted that spending on teaching assistants had more than doubled in less than ten years, to £2.2bn a year, with teaching assistants now making up a quarter of the primary school workforce.

‘It is very surprising that such growth has occurred when there is no consistent evidence of their impact on pupils’ attainment or teachers’ workload,’ said O’Higgins.

‘School leaders and governors will wish to explore whether they could make different choices about their workforces that could save money without damaging attainment.’

The commission has today published a series of briefings to help schools understand and control their workforce costs. Grouped under the heading Better value for money in schools, they look at four areas where schools could improve efficiency. These are: the deployment of classroom staff, including class sizes; the breadth and focus of a curriculum; how staff absences are covered; the size, cost and composition of the non-teaching workforce.

Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: ‘We don’t know what reports the Audit Commission has been looking at, but contrary to its assertions there is a wealth of reputable evidence to show that... teaching assistants are highly beneficial for pupils who need extra help and attention, particularly primary children, ethnic minority pupils and those with special needs.’

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