A look at school buying patterns

Schools’ views of funding, expected spending and outlook for the future are all improving.

The 906 UK schools (600 primary, 306 secondary) that we interviewed as part of our annual ‘Resources in English Maintained Schools’ survey revealed that 63 per cent of primary and 46 per cent of secondary schools feel they are adequately funded – an 8.6 per cent increase from 2013. While not everyone is happy, these findings certainly indicate an increasing sense of comfort with budgets; primary school head teachers, in particular are the most positive about funding adequacy since our survey began in 2007.

Let’s look at each product and resource area in more detail to understand a little more about the changing buying patterns and make some deductions about the causes.

ICT spending
Considering the sufficiency of ICT infrastructure provision first, this year’s research showed a more positive outlook in primary education for the first time since 2010. All schools claimed a 3.8 per cent increase in spend on ICT and forecast that this will increase to a 7.1 per cent rise in the school year 2014/15.
Unsurprisingly, with the arrival of the new computing curriculum primary schools are forecasting a 10 per cent increase in investment in ICT for 2014/15. However, secondary schools also forecast an 11 per cent increase in ICT investment.
It appears that in terms of the priority of investment, there is an upward trend through the school years. At foundation stage, we are seeing a slight rise in purchasing priorities towards ICT with 20 per cent more schools identifying ICT as increasingly important compared with 13 per cent last year. By Key Stage 1, 38 per cent of teachers see ICT as a priority compared with 22 per cent last year, 51 per cent at Key Stage 2, a slight dip at Key Stage 3 (49 per cent), and then rising again to 54 per cent at Key Stage 4. This demonstrates an increasing need for technology in learning with age.

Professional development
Predictably, the research also highlighted a significant and increasingly positive shift of spending in continuing professional development (CPD). The sector has been faced with numerous changes over the past few years including autonomy over financial management, movement towards academy status, a new curriculum for primary schools including computing and a renewed emphasis on modern foreign languages, to name just a few. Without training, schools are unlikely to have the skills to meet all of these new demands.
In 2013 respondents stated a seven per cent reduction in CPD spend, but this year schools indicated a 9.6 per cent increase; an overall increase in spending focus of 16.6 per cent. Looking ahead, surveyed schools forecast that in 2014/15, primary schools are more likely to increase their focus on investment further in CPD.

Pupil premium
Of course another welcomed addition to schools’ budgets was the Pupil Premium, designed to fund extra support for those students registered for free school meals, who in turn, are presumed to have additional learning support requirements.
The trend seems to be that schools increasingly feel that the Pupil Premium does support their budget. Nearly 70 per cent of schools last year stated this, while this year 89 per cent gave the same response.
Those schools that have seen the Pupil Premium provide significant support to budgets are most likely to invest it in small group interventions. Very few schools will spend any of the funds on reducing class sizes. Fifty per cent indicate spending at least some of the funds on classroom resources (down from 58 per cent in 2012), with 23 per cent indicating that none of the additional funds will be spent in this way.

Spending across subjects
With the new primary curriculum ‘going live’ in September, closely followed by the new secondary curriculum, it would not come as a shock to see an up-turn in investment in curriculum aligned resources. And in most areas this is exactly what we are seeing.
Subject-area purchasing priorities naturally show a higher expenditure in primary English/literacy resources but there is also a rise in expenditure from last year across all Key Stages.
Looking at the expenditure on maths/numeracy learning resources we see an interesting divide between primary and secondary schools, with secondary schools forecasting an increasing investment next year while primary schools are looking to cut their spending. With the government’s emphasis on maths and English in primary schools this was quite a surprising result.

Primary schools will, however, be increasing their investment into resources to support the teaching of modern foreign languages. However, it is interesting to note that this upward trend also applies to Key Stages 3 and 4.

The overall picture
Overall we are seeing a progressively positive picture of funding and investment within the education sector and a continuing focus on investment in ICT. Clearly the new primary computing curriculum is influencing this to a certain extent and technology is increasingly becoming an integral part of teaching and learning in the majority of schools.
In fact the only area where investment is forecast to fall is stationery. We could believe that with the increasing adoption of technology in schools, the use of hard copy books and pens are less in demand; spending on stationery is set to drop by three per cent.

What is most heartening is the development of the sector’s suppliers to meet the changing needs of schools. For example, last year, like this year, our corresponding research highlighted a growing demand for high quality training and CPD. However, this was coupled with a concern over the quality of available training. At the time only 17.5 per cent of those surveyed felt that the quality of training and CPD available was always of good quality. With the arrival of the new National Curriculum in September 2014 this was alarming. Today it is clear that suppliers have worked hard to provide the level of quality required by schools; we are seeing a significant shift in expenditure towards CPD to support the perpetual Government policy changes. The overarching picture is very positive.

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