As of 2019, there were almost 17,000 state primary schools and almost 3,500 state secondary schools in England, which together educated 6.73 million (m) pupils aged 5–15. Most secondary schools (75%) and approximately one-third of primary schools (32%) are ‘academies’ – that is, state schools which operate independently. The rest are local authority ‘maintained’ schools, whose funding flows through local authorities.
Until recently, schools in England did not face the same financial pressures as other public services. Per-pupil spending initially slightly increased in real terms but fell by around 4% in both primary and secondary schools between 2015/16 and 2018/19. School performance – at least as judged by pupil attainment – has broadly held up, although the share of secondary schools running deficits rose from 30% to 66% between 2010/11 and 2017/18, suggesting that schools have had to draw on reserves in order to maintain this performance.
Whether schools will be able to maintain current performance is the bigger concern, as there are serious and worsening problems in recruiting and retaining enough teachers – particularly in secondary schools. The government has missed its targets for recruiting teachers every year since 2012/13; it recruited 14% fewer secondary school teachers than it planned to in 2018/19. The three-year teacher retention rate for new teachers – that is, how many teachers are still in post after three years – has declined amongst each cohort of newly qualified teachers since 2010.
The government has confirmed that it will increase school funding by £2.6bn in 2020/21, £4.8bn in 2021/22, and £7.1bn in £2022/23, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates will almost restore real-terms per pupil funding to the level it was at in 2009/10. The government has announced that some of this money will be ringfenced to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, and some will be used to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022/23 to ease recruitment and retention pressures.