PTRs worsen in 2016

The DfE has today published its first results from last November’s School Workforce Census With an ever changing landscape across the school sector, it is sometimes difficult to discern the longer-term trends. However, it does seem as if the years of plenty are being replaced by more challenging times as the head teachers across southern England told the parents at many primary schools yesterday.

It is worth recalling the current environment. Pupil numbers have been rising for some years now in primary schools but falling in secondary schools. September 2016 market the first school year where the number of pupils in secondary schools started increasing. The DfE analysis comments that

The nursery & primary school population has been rising since 2009 and reached 4.50 million children in 2016. Based on 2016’s pupil projections the rate of increase is forecast to slow and the population is projected to stabilise in 2020 at 5 4.68 million children. The secondary school population rose to 2.76 million in 2016 (the first rise since 2005) as the increased births from 2002 reached secondary school age. The secondary school population is projected to continue increasing to 3.04 million by 2020 and further until 2025 when it is expected to peak at 3.33 million.

If pupil funding remains constant and there are no additional cost pressures, pupil teacher ratios should remain stable. Worsening, PTRs i.e. higher numbers of pupils per teacher, often indicate cost pressures on schools, although not always if a school has spare capacity and fills up existing spaces without the need to create new classes.

The best PTRs in recent years for all primary state funded schools in England were recorded in 2014 in at 20.9, while rolls were rising. By 2016, the primary PTR for qualified teachers was 21.3, a deterioration of 0.4 pupils per teacher. However, some of this difference may have been made up by unqualified teachers on School Direct and Teach First salaried schemes. The PTR is still far better than the 23.3 recorded in 2000, when schools were still suffering from the funding crisis of the 1990s.

In the secondary sector, the best year for PTRs was 2013, when it reached 15.5. It has always been better in the secondary sector than in the primary sector. By 2016, secondary PTRs had reached 16.4, a deterioration of 1.1 pupils per teacher despite the falling rolls during this period. I suspect that the change may have been greater in 11-18 schools because of the driving down of funding for the post-16 sector during the period since 2010 and the relative difference between Pupil Premium funding in the primary and secondary sectors.

Looking further ahead, it seem difficult to see the increase in pupil numbers helping the PTR to improve in the secondary sector in many schools; indeed, the prediction may be for the rate to continue to worsen back towards the 17.2 recorded across maintained secondary schools in 2000.

State funded special schools also recorded their first pressure on PTRs for many years, although their overall pupil adult ratio remained constant for the third year running.

Of course, as the mix of staffing changes in schools the use of a single ratio such as a PTR may become less significant than the wider pupil adult ratio.

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