School leaders say they will be forced to "cut down on staff" in the face of shrinking budgets over the coming years, according to Government- commissioned research published last week.
The study was released on the day that Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, launched the Spending Challenge, a scheme inviting the opinions of public sector workers on where savings should be made in light of tightening budgets.
Last Tuesday, Chancellor George Osborne outlined the most austere Budget in a generation, which could see up to 25 per cent being cut from all non- ringfenced departments over the next four years - although education is expected to be looked at more favourably.
But research by the Department for Education (DfE) shows that heads feel they have very "little space for manoeuvre" apart from staff cuts, once budgets are squeezed.
The report said: "A number of respondents thought that staffing was such an important aspect of their budget that there was little opportunity for efficiency elsewhere. Indeed, several argued that the only way they could make any serious impact, especially if facing, for example, 10 per cent cuts, would be to cut down on staff."
It concluded: "(Schools have) a widespread sense that they are fairly efficient already and doing all that they can to bring this about (including) perhaps most pervasively a belief that financially efficient actions in areas other than staffing are unlikely to have a major impact."
One headteacher interviewed for the study said managing schools was "inherently about staffing and ensuring we maximise that".
"Because, you know, turning the computer monitors off and saving a few pennies - it's not going to do anything."
Malcolm Trobe, policy director of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools have few options outside reducing staffing costs once budgets are slashed, but added school leaders should not try to second-guess the comprehensive spending review, which is due in October.
"There is a very limited amount of savings to be made in terms of non- staff related areas of a school," Mr Trobe said. "Any savings that can be made are very small, and a school will still have to be cleaned, the children have to be fed, and the grounds have to be looked after.
"To enable schools to prepare for reduced budgets, we need the Department to give us clear details of what to expect once the comprehensive spending review is done. Schools need time to manage their budget and staffing levels."
A DfE spokesman said the Coalition had "inherited a dire balance sheet, and everyone accepts that public spending must be reduced".
"However, the Chancellor made it clear that (the) average 25 per cent reductions in department budgets would not apply equally and that the education department faced particular pressures.
The spokesman added: "Our absolute priority is protecting the frontline so we will focus on slashing inefficiency, waste and bureaucracy as well as cutting the number of arms-length bodies such as the QCDA (the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency) and Becta (the technology-promotion agency)."
- 1.3 million jobs across all sectors could be lost due to the measures set out by the Chancellor George Osborne in last week's Budget.
- According to figures leaked from the new Office of Budget Responsibility, as many as 600,000 jobs could be lost from the public sector and 700,000 from the private sector in the next five years.
- A slide from the new office, leaked to The Guardian, is reported to have said "100-120,000 public sector jobs and 120-140,000 private sector jobs assumed to be lost per annum for five years through cuts".