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Finance & resources

Survey reveals balancing the budget is the biggest challenge for schools and trusts


Balancing the budget is the biggest challenge facing schools in England according to a survey of governors and trustees by the National Governance Association.

Governors and trustees were most likely to choose balancing the budget one of their top three challenges for 2022. Just 30% reported feeling financially sustainability with current levels of funding and income. Respondents were also increasing negative about their organisation’s longer-term financial position, with only 35% believing that their organisation is sufficiently funded to deliver its vision and strategy, down from 40% in 2021.

The survey reveals increasing concerns of those responsible for school and trust budgets amid the cost of living crisis. Infrastructure costs including energy prices presented a growing financial challenge for governing boards (surveyed in May 2022) even before reaching current levels. 46% of respondents placed these costs in their top three challenges in setting a balanced budget (up from 25% in 2021), following staff pay costs (60%) and the cost of supporting SEND and high needs pupils (47%).

The findings are published in a new report exploring the challenges and priorities of schools from the view point of governors and trustees. It is based on the responses of over 4100 governance volunteers to NGA’s annual governance survey. 

Top challenges facing schools and trusts:

  1. Balancing the budget
  2. The attainment of disadvantaged children
  3. Staff wellbeing including workload
  4. Improving attainment
  5. Support for pupils with special educational needs
  6. COVID-19 recovery

Top strategic priorities for governing boards:

  1. Ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum
  2. Improving attainment
  3. Support for pupils with special educational needs
  4. Pupil mental health and wellbeing
  5. Staff wellbeing including workload
  6. Ensuring best use of resources

Other findings include:

  • Safeguarding concerns have risen following the pandemic, with 71% of respondents reporting an increase in concerns, including domestic abuse, concerns around mental health and neglect.
  • Challenges in recruiting teaching staff are at their highest level since first asked in 2016. Just over half of those surveyed (53%) said their school or trust had found it difficult to recruit teaching staff – an increase from 29% in 2021.
  • Overwhelmed external support services are impacting provision for pupil mental health. 76% of respondents said that improved access to specialist services, and 75% said access to additional funding, would help their school or trust further support pupil mental health and wellbeing.
  • Almost all schools provide additional services for families. 1 in 5 (21%) schools respondents govern at now provide food banks, a significant increase to pre pandemic levels (8.2 % in 2019). Those providing meals outside of term time is also now more than 8 times higher than in 2019 (37% compared to 4.2% in 2019).
  • 8 out of 10 (82%) governors and trustees say additional funding is needed to further support families experiencing poverty.
  •  Just 10% of governors and trustees have a positive view of the government’s performance on education, the lowest since first asked in 2011.
Emma Knights, chief executive, National Governance Association,

“The impact of rising costs on school and trust budgets is a now a national challenge like no other. Senior leaders and governing boards throughout the country are reviewing their budgets in the face of these enormous rises, including unfunded national pay awards for their staff. The situation has been compounded by the fact that the funding for schools per-pupil remains below the level it was in 2010. These discussions for some might include potential redundancies, a reduction of the offer to pupils and less expenditure on buildings.”


Fiona Fearon, policy and projects manager, National Governance Association,

“This year’s results show that schools and trusts continue to play a vital and increasing role as pillars of the community. While they are still coming to terms with the impact of the pandemic, they now face shouldering the pressures of rapidly rising cost prices yet remaining acutely focused on ensuring the best for their pupils and their families and still driving forwards a vision rooted in ambition and hope. It is alarming to see the sheer volume of respondents also reporting increases in safeguarding concerns this year, and we hope this report will show just how much schools and trusts are currently dealing with, prodding further discussion of how they can be supported as the academic year unfolds.”