School funding per pupil has fallen since 2010, says IFS

By agency reporter
July 13, 2018

Between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about eight per cent in real terms, which compares with about five per cent in Wales. The greater cuts in England are driven by a combination of a greater fall in spending by local authorities and school sixth form spending alongside faster growth in pupil numbers. As a result, the gap in school spending per pupil between England and Wales has been virtually eliminated. These are the main findings of new work by IFS researchers, published on 12 July 2018.

Trends in spending across the UK reveal the different choices policymakers have made in response to overall cuts to public spending. In this new work, IFS researchers compare how school spending per pupil has evolved across England and Wales between 2009–10 and 2017–18. The main findings include:                                                                                                                    

Faster rises in pupil numbers in England place greater pressure on budgets

Total school spending in England has actually risen by around one per cent in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18, whilst it has fallen by around five per cent in Wales. However, because pupil numbers have risen by around 10 per cent in England and been fairly constant in Wales, these have translated into faster cuts in spending per pupil in England (eight per cent) than in Wales (five per cent).

Greater cut of eight per cent in total school spending per pupil in England

Looking at money that goes directly to schools for pupils up to age 16, school spending per pupil was protected in real terms under the coalition government and then cut by about four per cent in real terms between 2015 and 2017. The IFS  larger estimated cut of eight per cent between 2009–10 and 2017–18 includes the additional effects of much larger cuts to school sixth form spending per pupil (25 per cent) and local authority spending (55 per cent). Local authority services include spending on home-to-school transport, additional support for pupils with special educational needs, central administration.

Smaller cut of five per cent for total school spending per pupil in Wales

Although total school spending per pupil has fallen by five per cent in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18, funding provided directly to schools has actually increased by seven per cent in real terms. As in England, the cut in total school spending has been driven by large cuts to school sixth form funding (22 per cent) and local authority spending (38 per cent) in Wales.

Gap in school spending per pupil between England and Wales virtually eliminated

In 2017–18 total school spending per pupil in England was about £5,870 which was just two per cent – or £100 per pupil – above the £5,760 seen in Wales (both in 2018–19 prices). This is a modest difference, which will include funding for higher teacher salaries in London. The gap in spending is also much lower than in 2009–10 when the IFS estimated that spending per pupil was about £300 higher in England than in Wales.

The estimated gap of £300 per pupil in 2009–10 is also lower than the Welsh government’s previous estimate of £600. The lower estimate results from a combination of refined data sources and methods, which fully account for the differences in the school funding systems across the two countries.

Luke Sibieta, IFS Research Fellow, said "School spending per pupil has fallen by more in England than in Wales over the last eight years, virtually eliminating the gap in spending per pupil between the two countries. Policymakers in both England and Wales have chosen to protect spending directly allocated to schools for pupils under 16, and to make much larger cuts to sixth form allocations and to local authority spending. Schools in England have faced the additional pressure of a fast growing pupil population, whilst numbers in Wales have remained roughly constant."

* Read the report Comparing schools spending per pupil in Wales and England here

* Institute for Fiscal Studies https://www.ifs.org.uk/

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