Institute for Fiscal Studies: 2020 annual report on education spending in England: schools

Posted on November 30th, 2020

Government financial provision for schools in England covers pupils aged 5–16 as well as pupils aged 16–19 in sixth forms in state funded schools. In 2019/20, the spending on schools in England totalled about £51 billion, a sum which accounts for 17% of the whole of public service spending in England for that year.

A downward trend in spending on schools 2009/10 to 2019/20

While the government can genuinely claim that total overall spending on schools was protected in the period of austerity since 2010/11, there has been a more than 10% increase in the pupil population since then, which means that in fact spending per pupil in England has fallen by 9% in real terms to £6,100 per year. This represents the largest percentage cut in over 40 years.

This was also true to different extents for two other parts of the UK:

  • Over the period 2010 to 2019, cuts in spending per pupil were lower in Wales (5%) resulting in current funding per pupil of £6,100 per year.
  • In Northern Ireland cuts in 2010 to 2019 were higher (10%), meaning the average spend per pupil is now £5,800 per year.

By contrast, spending per pupil per year in Scotland rose by 5% in real terms to be the highest in the UK at £7,300.

Future spending plans

The report points out that the present government is seeking to reverse the picture in England by promising a three year settlement for school spending. This should provide a £7.1 billion increase in spending in cash terms in 2022/23, which will increase spending per pupil by 9% and would very nearly reverse past cuts.

Secondary versus primary spending

If current provision is broken down into educational phases, secondary school spending in England in 2019/20 (£6,000 per pupil) was about 16% higher than in primary schools (£5,200 per pupil).

This is a much narrower difference between the two phases than was the case in 2010/11 when it stood at 30% in favour of secondary schools.

The narrowing of the gap is partly due to large cuts in sixth form funding but continues a long-run pattern of spending changes over the previous decade (2000 to 2010) favouring primary relative to secondary schools.

Spending in deprived schools

The school funding system in England has provided greater levels of spending to more deprived schools to help narrow the achievement gap between more affluent and poorer pupils. During the 2000s the funding advantage for the most deprived schools grew from 20–25% in 2000/01 to 35% by 2010/11.

The introduction in 2011 of the pupil premium was designed to help close the achievement gap still further. However, despite the pupil premium, the amount of extra money provided to deprived schools had shrunk back to 25% in 2018/19. This can be partly explained by the changing geography of deprivation with faster falls in deprivation inside London and a school funding system that was slow to adjust to such changes.

In the long run, the new national funding formula should ensure that the funding system is more responsive, adjusting more swiftly to changes in patterns of deprivation in local authorities. But in the short run, the overall pattern looks set to continue with lower increases in formula allocations for schools in poorer areas. These patterns run counter to the objective of using school funding to level up poorer regions of the country and might pose additional challenges for deprived schools seeking to help pupils catch up after the closure of schools during the pandemic.

lmpact of COVID-19

Given lost schooling and a likely widening of educational inequalities during lockdown, the government announced a range of measures to help schools. These include a one-off catch up premium of £80 per pupil aged 5 to 16, a national tutoring programme (£250 million for pupils aged 5 to 16), additional money for school repairs and £1 billion for school building projects starting in September 2021.The report states that while the focus on tutoring is well based on existing evidence, the plans are modest compared with the feared loss in skills. Only the tutoring programme is specifically targeted at more disadvantaged pupils. This will make it harder to address the inequalities that are likely to have emerged during lockdown. Schools serving disadvantaged areas have also seen larger falls in spending per pupil over the last decade and are set to see the smallest increases under plans for the national funding formula over the next few years. Large increases in starting salaries for teachers mean that disadvantaged schools are also likely to face the fastest increases in costs over the next few years because they are more likely to employ inexperienced teachers.