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Education spending - schools

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School spending in England

Following large increases over the 2000s, school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2010 and 2020. The present government has sought to reverse this picture by providing real-terms increases in school spending per pupil in the 2019 and 2021 Spending Reviews. However, this only takes spending per pupil back to around the same level as in 2010.

Here, we provide a summary of the main trends over time. More detail can be found in our recent briefing note and in the dedicated data and methods section. All figures are presented in 2021–22 prices using the latest deflators. Levels and changes over time may therefore differ slightly from those shown in the briefing note.

Total school spending per pupil

Total school spending per pupil stood at £6,600 in 2019–20, which includes funding allocated to all state-funded schools, central spending on services provided by local authorities, sixth-form funding and early years funding.

In the decade between 2009–10 and 2019–20, spending per pupil fell by 9% in real terms, taking spending per pupil back to about the level last seen around 2005 and 2006. These cuts were mainly driven by large cuts to local authority spending on services, which fell by 57% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20, and a more than 25% real-terms fall in sixth-form funding per pupil aged 16–18.

Looking over the long run, these changes leave total school spending per pupil about 11% higher in real terms than at the start of our series in 2003–04.

 

The 2019 Spending Review set out plans for school spending in England through to 2022–23, including an additional £7.1 billion in cash terms as compared with 2019–20.

The 2021 Spending Review then extended this by setting out plans for day-to-day spending on schools in England up to 2024–25. This included an additional £1.75 billion in cash terms beyond existing plans for 2022–23, of which about £350 million represents compensation to schools for the employer cost of the new health and social care levy. However, about £1.4 billion will reflect new funding for schools.

The schools budget will then rise by a further £3 billion in cash terms between 2022–23 and 2024–25. This makes for a total cash-terms rise of £4.4 billion compared with previous plans for 2022–23, or closer to £4.8 billion when you include compensation for the cost of the new health and social care levy.

Following a significant rise in the pupil population over the last decade, the number of pupils in state-funded schools in England is expected to decline by 1% between 2021–22 and 2024–25. After accounting for this trend, we project that core school spending per pupil will rise by over 4% in real terms in 2022–23 and by over 1% per year between 2022–23 and 2024–25. This will make for a total rise of over 7% between 2021–22 and 2024–25.

Combining this with a 3% rise between 2019–20 and 2021–22 implies a total real-terms rise of just under 11% between 2019–20 and 2024–25. This will take spending per pupil to about 1% above its past high point around 2010 and is clearly sufficient to reverse the 9% cut that took place between 2009–10 and 2019–20.

These figures are based on projected trends in core school spending per pupil after excluding the effects of extra funding to schools to compensate for higher employer pension contributions from September 2019 and the new health and social care levy from April 2022.

 

Primary and secondary school spending per pupil

Figure 3 shows our estimates for the level of primary and secondary school spending per pupil in England over time (in 2021–22 prices). The data we use to calculate these figures allow us to track spending per pupil by phase and further back in time to the late 1970s. To do this, we must focus on spending by individual schools, which excludes spending undertaken by local authorities and on special schools. The figures are therefore lower than those implied by Figure 1.

 

As can be seen, spending per pupil has evolved in a number of distinct phases:

  • Modest growth over the 1980s and 1990s. During the 1980s and 1990s, primary school spending per pupil grew by 2.2% per year, on average, in real terms and secondary school spending per pupil grew by 1.4% per year.
  • Rapid growth over the 2000s. From 1999–2000 onwards, spending per pupil grew rapidly, with growth of nearly 6% per year in real terms for primary and secondary schools over the 2000s.
  • Real-terms protection between 2010 and 2015. Under the coalition government, spending per pupil grew by 1% per year in real terms in primary schools and was largely frozen in real terms in secondary schools.
  • Real-terms falls since 2015. Between 2015–16 and 2017–18, school funding per pupil was frozen in cash terms and largely protected in real terms from 2017–18 onwards. This translated into a 1% real-terms fall in primary school spending per pupil and a 9% real-terms fall in secondary school spending per pupil between 2015–16 and 2019–20.

Looking over the long run, one of the big changes is the shrinking of the ratio between secondary and primary school spending per pupil. Secondary school spending per pupil was well over 60% higher than primary school spending per pupil at the end of the 1980s, more than 30% higher in 2009–10 and only 14% higher in 2019–20. Such a shift is part of a more general trend towards a flatter profile of spending per pupil with age and is in line with increasing evidence emerging over this period suggesting a bigger impact of education investments at earlier ages.

Other key findings

  • Funding trends by deprivation levels: Deprived schools have seen larger spending cuts over time. The most deprived secondary schools saw a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009–10 and 2019–20, compared with a 9% drop for the least deprived schools. The National Funding Formula has continued this pattern by providing bigger real-terms increases for the least deprived schools (8–9%) than for the most deprived ones (5%) between 2017–18 and 2022–23. This runs counter to the government’s goal of levelling up poor areas.
  • Teacher salaries: Delivering a (delayed) manifesto commitment to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 will require a 17% cash-terms rise in starting salaries over 2022 and 2023. With salaries for more experienced teachers 8% lower in real terms than in 2007, there will also be pressure to increase other teacher salaries to avoid serious recruitment and retention problems.
  • Cost of increases in teacher pay: The government originally planned to deliver higher starting salaries as part of a 3% per year increase in average teacher pay. We estimate that continuing on this path to 2023 (instead of 2022) would cost schools about £1.7 billion extra per year. This compares with a planned £5 billion increase in the schools budget over the same time frame.
  • Costs of lost learning: Missed face-to-face schooling during the pandemic is likely to have long-lasting effects on children’s education. So far, the government has only provided about £3 billion of the £15 billion reportedly recommended by the Education Recovery Commissioner for catch-up.
  • School funding differences across the UK: Levels and trends over time in school spending per pupil are very similar across England and Wales (about £6,600–£6,700 per pupil by 2021–22). There were cuts in both nations, but spending per pupil is now close to returning to 2010 levels in both nations. In Scotland, school spending per pupil fell up to 2015, but has since more than recovered. Core school spending per pupil in Scotland in 2021–22 is likely to be over 6% higher in real terms than in 2009–10 and over £900 higher than in the other three nations of the UK. School spending per pupil is lowest in Northern Ireland (planned to be £6,400 per pupil in 2021–22) and saw the largest cuts over the last decade (10% real-terms cut between 2011–12 and 2018–19). This partly reflects significant delays in agreeing teacher salary levels.
  • Private school fees: Whilst core school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20, private school fees rose by 23% in real terms. This significantly increased the gap between state school spending per pupil and private school fees. In 2009–10, the gap between total state school spending per pupil (including both day-to-day and capital spending) and private school fees was about £3,100 or nearly 40%. By 2020–21, this had more than doubled to a difference of £6,500 or over 90%.

 

Methods and data

Our methods and data section can be found here. 

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