How the education sector can reduce its reliance on paper

Budget cuts have placed the education sector under a severe amount of pressure over the past three years, making it increasingly difficult for schools to continue operating sustainably. Since 2015, £2.8bn has been cut from school budgets, and the effects are now beginning to show. The latest Government figures reveal that staff numbers in secondary schools have fallen by 15,000 from 2014 to 2017, despite there now being an additional 4,500 pupils to teach.


With financial pressures increasing due to additional cuts and rises in inflation, schools are being forced to look at ways to make their funds go further. One such solution could be to reduce the amount of waste that schools are producing, especially given that the average secondary pupil produces 22kg of waste per year. This is more than double for primary pupils at 45kg – most of the waste generated is from paper and card.

Budget cuts

Why is the education sector using so much paper?


In many schools, staff still rely heavily on paper documents, particularly in the form of registers and paper confirmation slips. However, the issue with paper documents is that they become dated extremely quickly and can be easily lost or damaged. Often, schools will find themselves having to print out numerous copies of documents or forms or updated versions, all of which take up time, money and resources. And those letters that need to be read by parents? Well, there’s a high chance that they’ll end up at the bottom of school bags or in the pockets of children who have forgotten to pass them on. This means that communication with parents can be sporadic and inefficient, possibly resulting in parents not receiving important information, such as parents’ evening dates.


Our recent study into the death of the paper trail found that the education sector is actually having the most trouble reducing its reliance on paper, with 80% of staff admitting that paper is still heavily used. It is estimated that schools in the UK use 1,000 sheets of paper per pupil each year. But, when all the paper used for administration processes is included, the total increases to around one million sheets per year – this equates to a yearly spend of £60,000 on printing and photocopying, money that could be put to better use, such as to enhance learning.


But, with the education sector very much set in its ways, regularly relying on paper and pen, physical notepads and heavy textbooks, it can be extremely frustrating for staff who are trying push for modern teaching practices, particularly when funding is so tight within all schools across the country.


Bringing the classroom into the digital era


Paper documents are extremely prone to be damaged or lost, meaning that homework sheets, parental permission slips or school newsletters can often go missing. However, with so much technology now available, reliance on paper can be reduced and these issues can be eliminated. Technological developments, such as the Internet, smartphones and tablets, have greatly minimised the need to print out documents or send physical mail.


There has also been a rise in digital data capture solutions, which enable users to convert paper documents into digital forms that can be stored in the cloud. These tools can significantly reduce the amount of paper that businesses and institutions are using, meaning that money can be saved on printing resources and equipment. When documents are stored in the cloud, they can be accessed from anywhere, and at any time. For schools, this would enable them to distribute important forms, such as permission slips for educational trips, in an instant, and then parents could fill them in and send them back just as quickly. Schools would then have a clear, digital paper trail showing that pupils have been given the necessary permission to attend events or activities, helping the school to remain compliant.


The education sector is enduring an intense period of budget cuts that is forcing headteachers and school governors to reduce the amount of money they are spending. With further budget cuts expected, it is important that staff look at every possible avenue to save money. Reducing paper waste would be one cost-effective and sustainable way to make funds go further, helping to limit the impact of cuts on our children’s learning. It is now time for schools to embrace paperless working methods and the technology that can help save them money to protect the future of our education system. 


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