West Sussex school funding crisis survey results

UNISON schools survey reveals funding crisis hitting vulnerable children the hardest.

Our schools survey asked questions which aimed to assess the impact of the deteriorating financial position of West Sussex schools through the prism of workforce change. We were concerned not only to assess the impact of this on our members but the whole school community.

Key findings

  • There is an increasing rate of staffing restructures in West Sussex school
  • Staffing restructures leave the most vulnerable children with reduced provision.
  • Educational outcomes for all children are negatively affected by staffing restructures. These are reflected in the attainment results for West Sussex schools.
  • There is an increased risk to the safeguarding of children as a result of restructuring in schools
  • Staffing restructures are often poorly managed
  • These processes result in significant loss of staff, which in turn has a impact on stress levels and morale of our members, and on the health and safety of all.
  • Other non-staffing cut backs include equipment and adequate heating and ventilation

Powerpoint slides of key findings

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Since April 2015 the Worth Less? Campaign has done some excellent work in highlighting the gap in funding between West Sussex Schools and the National Average. This stands at £44m and £200m less than the average London borough. West Sussex is 148th out of 151, as the third most poorly funded authority. UNISON supports the Worth Less campaign with its ongoing efforts to secure emergency funding of £20m and a fairer settlement.

It is now known that the National Funding formula, long-delayed and long-awaited, and now due next year, will provide no relief to our schools. Worth Less reported that West Sussex schools will gain £79 per pupil from the new settlement rising to £144 per pupil by 2020. However, this stands in contrast to the £402 per pupil that West Sussex is behind the national average. Moreover, when unfunded costs burdens such as pension rises and pay increments are factored in many schools will be no better off, or worse off.

Survey Objective

UNISON wanted to know impact this crisis is having on those at the coal face; on our members, but also on other stakeholders such as heads, teachers, and parents. Our survey questions were designed to assess and measure the perception of these stakeholders.

We should add a note of caution to these results. It was reflected in the qualitative data that schools across the county are working very hard in extremely difficult circumstances, to maintain standards and keep our children safe. UNISON has the upmost respect for our members working in schools, with the most vulnerable children, improving their life chances every day. So too teachers and heads having to juggle competing pressures and increasing responsibilities to keep schools afloat. The purpose of our survey was not to put further pressure on school leaders by highlighting the impact of the very difficult decisions they are making. Rather it was to add our voice to that of the Worth Less campaign in seeking a fairer settlement.

The objective of our survey was therefore to highlight the very real crisis in West Sussex schools from the perspective of those on the ground, and how parents are experiencing it. We want the results to be used to support the claims for fairer funding of West Sussex schools, but also to lobby government for a total budget which is sufficient and fair to all children.

An increasing problem

Did the restructure in your school take place in 2014/15 or 2015/16?

Our survey found that the rate of restructuring in schools appears to be on the rise as 19% more respondents experienced one in the 2015/16 academic year than the previous year. This is unsurprising. In a busy trade union branch office we have experienced a significant upturn in demand for our services, which range from challenging redundancy proposals, to supporting individuals with formal claims driven by these processes. UNISON was clear in the survey description that restructuring should be a formal process involving our union in consultation. However, we also understood that the use of temporary contracts was rife in our schools and that often vacancies were simply not filled. The impact of this on our members is often worse as a formal process will involve the redistribution of work amongst remaining staff whereas not filling vacancies can sometimes leave pockets of disproportionately burdened staff. We therefore added the following explanation in our description:

“A formal restructure involves trade unions and includes a consultation period and a clear set of proposals. Often there is a staff meeting to discuss the plans. Outcomes might include redundancies or changes to pay grades or hours worked. Sometimes informal restructures occur through vacancies not being filled or temporary contracts not being renewed. We are interested in both types for the purposes of this survey.”

A restructure does not always result in job losses, and 80% of our respondents said that redundancies were between 0-5. A significant minority though, 20%, said that there were more than 5 redundancies, and just over 4% that said this resulted in more than 10 redundancies.

Who responded?

As stated above, UNISON wanted to reach out beyond our own members and invited respondents from across the school community. This breakdown was as follows:

  • 76% UNISON Members
  • 48% Support Staff
  • 27% Parents
  • 10% Teachers
  • 2% Heads
  • 2% Governors

We had a good number respond from other unions such as the NUT and NASUWT. We were very pleased to receive such a high response from parents. This perhaps reflects the high number of our members work in their childrens’ schools. UNISON is sensitive to the fact that our schools are communities of stakeholders in a way which is perhaps unique amongst the variety of workplaces we have members. It was important to us that our survey reflected this.

Impact on non-staffing resources

What other (non-staffing) savings have your school been required to make due to funding pressures?

Over 80% of our respondents said that the restructure of staff in their school was financially driven, but we wanted to know what other savings there had been. These were the results:

  • Resources 88%
  • Equipment 85%
  • Buildings 33%
  • Heating / ventilation 14%
  • Transport 13%

We are told by our members that many of the county’s schools are crumbling, as they have suffered from a lack of investment for many years, but it was shocking to see that budgets for essential repairs were being pared back. The safety of our members, children and other stakeholders is put at risk in buildings are not properly maintained.

It was also concerning that some schools were cutting back on heating to make ends meet. We would be very concerned that some schools were, in effect, suffering from fuel poverty. As HSE evidence shows that the ability to concentrate is impaired and more likely to lead to hasty decision making when exposed to cold temperatures. (http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/)

We know from research by the forestry commission that the success of forest schools shows that taking students out of the classroom and into the natural environment can aid good educational outcomes and has positive effects on their mental health. (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/infd-6hkemh) It is therefore concerning that transport budgets that could facilitate that have also been cut back.

Process Management and Support

Do you feel the process was managed well? This should include support from management, proper consultation and selection for alternative roles?

Our survey found that for those who had experienced a restructure in the last two years, only 36% thought it was managed well, with 27% saying it had not been managed well. This is a concern for UNISON, as we have been told by schools opting to convert to academy status that one of the principal reasons for their decision is the declining quality of central county council services. It is worth noting however that UNISON’s experience, after several years of negotiating with academy chains, is that county HR support remains superior.

That said, in 2013, the cabinet member for schools at the time, Jeremy Hunt, promised significant improvements. This was in response to a critical peer-review by the Chief Executive of Devonshire County Council, Phil Norrey, of the council’s education services. It remains the Capita-run services like HR and Payroll that attract the widest criticism and this survey response should be seen in that context. UNISON has already raised a number of concerns with the County Council during last year after complaints from members about HR advisory services in schools.

After five years of failure it’s time that these services contracted out to Capita were brought back in house.

Impact of restructure on individuals

Which of the following have you experienced as a result of the restructure in your school?

The significant results were:

  • 65% said it had lowered morale
  • 44% said it had contributed to stress / health problems
  • 48% said it had resulted in them having greater responsibility
  • 78% said they had experienced increased workload

These findings seem not to be unconnected. A significant increase in workload, often as a result of vacancies not being filled, is a common contributor to stress suffered by our members.

One member said:

“The role is poorly paid, frequently challenging and pay rises derisory…many colleagues openly discuss a desire to seek alternative employment and express low levels of satisfaction regarding, pay and conditions.”

Another said:

“Although few were made redundant, many left because of the stress”

The legal definition for redundancy is that work must cease or diminish. In a formal restructure, it is one thing for financial pressures to lead to job losses. We do not expect our members to be undertaking the work of 2 members of staff to compensate for job losses where that work should have ceased or diminished.

As another member said:

“Reduction of SNTAs means I have to support special needs children in the class as well as keeping up with my usual role”

There is only so far you can push staff before they reach breaking point. We do not expect our members to do more and more work as a result of restructure. This will lead to some difficult decisions for schools, which the Worthless campaign have ably illustrated with the warning that some schools may have to close one day a week.

UNISON is certainly seeing these circumstances reflected in increasing levels of casework for our officers and representatives. We are seeing a “perfect storm” of challenges for our trade union: reduced facility time, a fragmentation of the employer into academy chains, and increased pressure on our members from additional workloads and responsibility.

Inadequate staffing levels

As a result of the restructure, has the number of staff needed to carry out the work in your school improved or got worse?

73% said that the number of staff needed to do the work was worse since the restructure.

A range of organisations including the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Education Trust, and UNISON recently developed some professional standards for Teaching Assistants. In drawing up this guidance, these bodies defined the role thus:

“The primary role of the teaching assistant should be to work with teachers to raise the learning and attainment of pupils while also promoting their independence, self-esteem and social inclusion. They give assistance to pupils so that they can access the curriculum, participate in learning and experience a sense of achievement.”

The key words in that statement are inclusion, access and participation. Our members working in these critically important roles facilitate this so that more children achieve a better standard of education than if they were absent.

Our survey results reveal there are simply not enough of them to do the work to make this possible.

Significantly, headteachers responding to our survey also thought that the number of staff needed to do the work had got worse as a result of the restructure. (50% worse, 25% better, 25% no change). One said:

“Everyone is stretched to the limits. In a school of social deprivation, we are unable to offer the support to children and their families of previous years.”

Some other comments from the qualitative data on this question:

“Staff feel that the quality of work they do has dropped as you don’t have the time to do the job properly. You just rush-rush-rush”

“Less staff to do more work”

“Some year 11 GCSE English classes were taught by unqualified support staff last academic year. Many other classes were covered by cover supervisors, where they were left to structure and prepare the classes for themselves from a very brief and incomplete note handed to them just as the class was starting (or left to find the instructions for themselves in messy classrooms)”

“All members of staff have increased work load to cover staff that have left and the position has not been refilled”

“The restructure resulted in TA’s given 1:1 roles, leaving one part time TA per year group ( apart from EYFS)” “The work is still there, but it does not get done in a timely manor or sometimes at all”

“The school needed teachers and TAs as there were more children”

“Classes have had to become mixed year groups across Y1/2 and Y3/4 due to lack of funding for teachers and an increasing roll. Also, very low percentage of Pupil Premium children means less available funds to help children.”

“I think worse, there are less TA than before and they were vital to support teachers.”

“One member of the office staff has not been replaced, putting increased pressure on the two remaining. The two TAs who have left were both first aiders, which impacts on those remaining – interrupted lunch breaks and class time..”

“Not enough TA’s to support large classes, or children with SEN needs.”

“Our school has too many managers, too top heavy. There isn’t enough support staff to do the work and so managers expect you to do more than expected.” “Lower number of TA’s, lower number of admin staff”

“same workload now stretched across fewer staff”

“Due to fewer staff members there is greater pressure and work load has increased.”

“There are now less staff to support children with additional needs. Specialist teacher and LSA support has been removed/ reduced resulting in less support for children and additional work load and stress for other staff. This has an impact on all the children we work with, not just those with additional needs. There has also been a reduction in management roles, which means tasks have had to be redistributed to others who already had a significant work load.”

“Some extra curricular activities previously available to pupils have had to be discontinued.” “there have been voluntary redundancies and also staff who have moved on and not replaced, or who have moved as result of the pressures of inadequate government funding.”

“Staff have been made redundant, downgraded or left and not been replaced. There is so much work to do and so few of us left to do it.”

Educational outcomes for children

As a result of the restructure have the educational outcomes for children, in your view, got better or worse?

47% of respondents said educational outcomes in their school had got worse as a result of the restructure.

It is deeply concerning that so many respondents have witnessed a deterioration in standards. UNISON has been making this point for many years – there is a direct link between cutting jobs, overworking our members and dwindling resources and a corresponding negative impact on children’s educational outcomes. The responses to our survey indicate that Parents are as concerned as UNISON that there is not enough staff in their school to do the work.

One parent said:

“There not enough qualified teachers, enough resources and in general the means to provide better educational outcomes for our Children.”

A UNISON member, working as a Teaching Assistant agreed, saying:

“Class sizes are too large, especially for lower ability pupils. Teachers are massively overworked and we are no longer able to give the support they need as there are too few of us.”

Another simply said:

“Statement hours not being met. All SEN pupils suffering”

The perception of our survey respondents – that staffing restructures have negatively affected educational outcomes – is reflected in other data and opinion from the same period. In September 2016, local media outlets reported on Key Stage 2 results. In West Sussex, only 44 per cent of youngsters made the grade when it came to reading, writing and maths combined, with the attainment in writing falling well short – 60 per cent compared to a national average of 74 per cent. (West Sussex County Times (Main), 08/09/2016, p.12). This prompted the Leader of West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith, to warn of a ‘perfect storm’ later that month, of “funding pressures and policy changes which will have a damaging effect on local schools and children’s learning.” (Midhurst and Petworth Observer (Web), 20/09/2016). In October and December there was more bad news with the SATs results. Twenty-eight primary schools in West Sussex failed to reach the expected standards and overall, the data from the DfE showed that West Sussex children were falling short of the national average in these tests at the end of Key Stage 1. (Midsussex Times (Main), 22/12/2016, p.2; Worthing Today (Web), 03/10/2016)

The results of our survey in this area combined with this data is striking. Worth less have rightly focused on the funding gap for West Sussex schools, but what does this mean for the children in schools today? A picture emerges here of staff shortages, having a direct impact on the educational outcomes of the children.

To her credit, Louise Goldsmith acknowledged this fact in December, but she suggested that this was some distant possible consequence. It is happening now, and UNISON has been telling the Conservative County Council for years that this crisis was coming. Repeated promises of a new settlement through a national funding formula have been delayed again and again by a Conservative government that wants to avoid politically sensitive decisions.


Seven-year-olds fail to meet SATs averages Worthing Today (Web), 03/10/2016, Unattributed – Link Seven-year-olds in West Sussex performed below the national average in the recent SATs assessments. The tests at the end of Key Stage 1 – which were roundly criticised by parents and teachers alike – saw youngsters assessed in writing, maths, science and reading. Figures published by the Department for Education on Thursday (September 29), showed West Sussex youngsters had fallen short in all four subjects. They also failed to meet the national average when it came to their understanding of phonics – the sounds words make. A spokesman for West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “West Sussex schools and the county council are disappointed with the results and advisers have already met with a large number of headteachers to ensure they fully understand the outcomes. West Sussex School Improvement Service is working with headteachers to put in place a plan to improve Key Stage 1 outcomes in 2017.”

League tables see 28 schools fall short Midsussex Times (Main), 22/12/2016, p.2, Karen Dunn Karen. Twenty-eight primary schools in West Sussex failed to reach the expected standards following the summer’s tough new tests. The children who took the SATs in the summer were the first to be tested under the new National Curriculum, which came into effect in 2014. As such, they had received two years’ education under the old curriculum, something West Sussex County Council said “impacted upon results”. A council spokesman said: “While we are obviously disappointed with these results, since the beginning of the autumn term we have been working very hard with our schools to support them in improving pupils’ performance.”

County warns school funding delay will damage children’s education Midhurst and Petworth Observer (Web), 20/09/2016, Unattributed – Link The Leader of West Sussex County Council has warned of a ‘perfect storm’ of funding pressures and policy changes which will have a damaging effect on local schools and children’s learning. Councillor Louise Goldsmith has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening MP, to plead for urgent government support to address issues which have ‘built up over years of under-funding’. The letter has been prompted by delays to the implementation of a new National Funding Formula for schools, something which local headteachers and the council have been calling for. Louise Goldsmith was also interviewed on BBC Sussex this morning.

Students fall short in tough new Key Stage 2 tests West Sussex County Times (Main), 08/09/2016, p.12, Unattributed West Sussex County Council is confident its schools will show quick improvement after falling short in the tough new Key Stage 2 tests. Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) published the provisional results of the national curriculum assessments taken by all 11-year-olds. Just 53 per cent of children across the country met the expected standards in reading, writing and maths, whereas 78 per cent achieved the old Level 4 or above last year. In West Sussex, only 44 per cent of youngsters made the grade when it came to reading, writing and maths combined, with the attainment in writing falling well short – 60 per cent compared to a national average of 74 per cent. The county council said it would be “working closely” with schools to develop an action plan to improve the results.


As a result of the restructure have safeguarding risks increased or decreased, in your view?

UNISON did not want to shy away from asking the difficult questions. We knew from casework interviews with our members that staffing cuts had an impact on outcomes for children. We have been told by our members working in pastoral support roles time and time again that increasing their workloads is putting more and more pressure on safeguarding. Yet we also know that this is an important priority for schools. This was reflected in the qualitative data, in comments such as these:

“Safeguarding is very important in our school so that is a main priority”

“Safeguarding is one of the key focuses within this school. If it were not for the dedication and scrutiny of teachers and the SLT then safeguarding risks would have been increased.”

It is therefore important to note that 66% of our survey respondents said that they thought staffing restructures had a neutral impact on safeguarding. Perhaps this reflects a genuine motivation to only reduce posts in these areas as a last resort. Nevertheless, 31% still said there was an increased safeguarding risk as a result of staffing restructure. Some of the comments on this were as follows:

“If support staff are used instead of a permanent teacher giving a stable environment for learning, then safeguarding issues can be overlooked.”

“At lunchtimes, there are insufficient staff to cope with the volume of children.”

“There is little understanding or allowances made for the fact that we have high numbers if very young children and therefore need to maintain high ratios to maintain safety”

SEN Provision

As a result of the restructure has Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision got better or worse, in your view?

In 2012 UNISON carried out a survey of over 200 school leaders (65% headteachers) to understand how Teaching Assistants were used in their schools and how important they considered them. The research was published in a report called ‘The Evident Value of Teaching Assistants’ (2013) and is available here: https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2013/06/Briefings-and-CircularsEVIDENT-VALUE-OF-TEACHING-ASSISTANTS-Autosaved3.pdf

Key findings from the research included “over 95% of school leaders [who] said that TAs add value to schools, in particular, in the team around the child; as effective mediators and advocates; with vulnerable pupils and in enhancing the learning environment with all pupils.”

Crucially, in the context of our research, the 2013 survey also found that:

“Leaders suggested that a reduction in TAs would have an impact on children with special education and health needs, teachers and the running of the school.”

This was corroborated in our survey.

65% said special educational needs (SEN) provision has got worse as a result of restructure in their school

This is a shocking statistic.

UNSON members working as Teaching Assistants are at the coalface when it comes to SEN. When schools are faced with the difficult decision of making cut-backs, it is our members targeted first. The assumption is that if there has to be staff cutbacks that teachers must be preserved come what may. But at what cost?

In response to our survey question, one head teacher said:

“We have had to significantly reduce our intervention support, our numbers counts teacher is back in class and our high need children are receiving fewer hours support.”

Other respondents to our survey painted a similarly bleak picture:

“Some days we can now only cover statemented students, and assistant presence in smaller classes has also dropped.”

“Dedicated SEN HLTA now not being used for her specialism.”

“When I started in 2007 there were over 10 LSAs now there are 6 of whom 2 are full time.”

“There are now less staff to support children with additional needs. This has an impact on all the children we work with, not just those with additional needs.”

“People are doing more paper work about performance management for themselves / other staff rather than being in classrooms where needed”

“There is less time to share information with fellow colleagues.”

“Not enough support, or money to help with diagnosis.”

“Not enough SEN money, only 2 full Time teaching assistant and 3 part time. How the hell is that enough in a school!!”

The SEN Code of Practice says that:

“All children have a right to an education that enables them to make progress so that they:

  • achieve their best
  • become confident individuals and live fulfilling lives
  • make a successful transition into becoming an adult – whether that’s into further and higher education, training or work”

By failing to properly fund West Sussex schools the government is failing in its duty to ensure all children are able to access the education to which they are entitled. Teaching Assistants help children with autism, learning difficulties and so on – the most vulnerable children – to access an education to which they are entitled under the SEN code of practice.

Health and Safety

In your view, is there more or less of a risk to the Health and Safety of the children, staff and other stakeholders as a result of the restructure?

51% say there is now a greater risk to the Health and Safety of staff, children and other stakeholders

When taken together with our survey findings in section 1 related to non-staffing savings these results will be deeply concerning for parents, as they are for UNISON. The impact of staffing restructures, it’s resulting financial pressures and reduced staffing has consequential effects for the health and safety of our members and the wider school community.

For instance, in section 1 our survey found that 14% said there had been a reduction in the use of heating and ventilation, and in section 3, 44% said the changes had an impact on their health. In this context it isn’t surprising that 51% identified an impact on the health and safety of children, staff and other stakeholders.

One parent said:

“There are always going to be increased Health and Safety risks for everyone involved, when class sizes are forced to increase.”

Other respondents said:

“Hopefully high standards will remain but it is hard work. Stress will lead to sickness”

But for those who do not suffer health problems, the health and safety risks posed by staffing restructures remain. As these two respondents identified:

“Stressed and overworked staff increases the risk of mistakes being made.”

“In certain subjects the numbers are too high, especially in more difficult classes, which make practical components more of a risk”

In 2013, UNISON published “It’s not Part of the Job” (available here: https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2013/07/On-line-Catalogue216963.pdf) The research acts as a guide to ensuring risks are regularly assessed to keep our members safe in the workplace.

It outlines provision of the Health and Safety at Work Act which requires any identified risk of violence must be eliminated or reduced to the lowest level possible.

73% of respondents to our survey said that staffing restructure meant that the number of staff needed to do the work had got worse. Within this earlier UNISON research it cited a case study highlighting problems arising from inadequate staffing levels:

“A site supervisor at a large girls school was securing the building when he was attacked by an intruder and stabbed with a hypodermic syringe. The site supervisor was given an injection for Hepatitis B and needed a course of treatment for Hepatitis C. It was subsequently found there had been previous incidents of intruders in the school including cases of violent behaviour. Following UNISON legal action the site supervisor received compensation from the employer on the grounds that the school had failed to respond to representations for additional security, including more staff, for the school.”

This example illustrates why it is therefore vital that schools are given the funding they need to avoid these kinds of claims, and ensure the health and safety of everybody in the school.

Last Word…

It is clear from our members responses that their main concern is the children they are responsible for. For many of them, they could earn significantly more money, with significantly less stress, elsewhere. They do what they do because they care, they are public servants. Parents are reassured that specialist Teaching Assistants enable disadvantaged children from poorer backgrounds, or those with special needs, to access education. It’s clear from the responses that it is the whole school that suffers from staffing cut-backs, not only the most vulnerable. Teachers are having to give more of their attention to those less able children which means that the staff dedicated to those most in need are spread ever thinner. Put simply, the loss of our members jobs means worse educational outcomes for all children. This is not just theory, but has been demonstrated by the results in the county attainment levels.

But there is hope for change. And this parent sums it up.

“There is no doubt our school and the opportunities for our children would improve with equal government funding; fair and equitable for our school and others in our part of the country.”

We need this now.