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Home Research areas Education, skills and human capital Primary and secondary education

Primary and secondary education

Students in the UK spend around 12 years in full-time education between the ages of 4 and 16. This period plays an instrumental role in the development of a wide array of skills, which go on to have a significant impact on future employment and earnings. The government makes a considerable investment in children during this period: students educated in state schools who took their GCSEs in 2015-16 had an average of £57,000 spent on their primary and secondary education.

There are a large number of factors that can impact student attainment at school including school organisation; the training and retention of high-quality teachers; the behaviour and ability of the peer group; and within school practices such ability-based setting or teaching styles. In our research, we set out the level spending per pupil on primary and secondary education and the extent of variation between schools across the county. We show how this translates into school inputs and how these inputs – such as pupil-teacher ratios, teacher pay and breakfast clubs – impact student outcomes including attainment and earnings.  We have investigated the costs and benefits of the different teacher training routes and explored recent trends the educational attainment of new teachers.

Our research has contributed to the policy debate around primary and secondary education. For example, we have produced widely cited figures on the trajectory of school spending and policy; we have set out the lessons that can be learnt from the effect of London schools on the attainment; and we have investigated the role of grammar schools in social mobility.

Selected highlights

Journal article
This paper uses a variety of methods to examine the impact of educational attainment of future earnings. Compared with stopping education at 16 years of age with no qualifications, we find that acquiring O-levels (GCSEs) increases earnings by 18%, A-levels increases earnings by 24% and going to ...
Journal article
We exploit wage regulation to examine the impact of pay on school performance and analyse data from over 3000 schools containing around 200,000 teachers who educate around half a million children per year.
IFS Working Paper W00/22
This paper investigates the impact of pupil-teacher ratios on later life earnings. We find no impact on the earnings of men, but a lower pupil-teacher ratio does increase the earnings of women – particularly low ability women.
This report aims to inform policy debate by providing clear evidence on the magnitude of the differences in outcomes between children and adults born at the start and end of the academic year in England.
This report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows how routes into teaching have changed in recent years, and looks at the costs, benefits and retention rates for each route.
IFS Working Paper W16/13
We study students’ motives for educational attainment in a unique survey of 885 secondary school students in the UK. As expected, students who perceive the monetary returns to education to be higher are more likely to intend to continue in full-time education. However, the main driver is the ...


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Luke Sibieta
Research Fellow