DfE cherry picking of school funding data is masterclass in spin

Janet Downs's picture

The Department for Education rushed out a press release yesterday after proceedings in Parliament. 

Jeremy Corbyn had asked a question about education funding during Prime Minister’s Questions.  Later, two MPs presented petitions about school funding pressures.   One of these was from Henley-on-Thames and had been launched by Henley’s Tory MP, John Howell.  He had told a local paper:

It will be nice if there’s a proper understanding of how much it costs to deliver education and that the funding matches this.’

Being questioned by Corbyn about school funding is one thing.  But being petitioned by constituents in Tory heartland is quite another.  No wonder the DfE dashed off a robust response:

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that real terms per pupil funding for five to sixteen year olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000.’

That’s true – and the IfS actually put the figure higher:  fluctuations in education spending since 2000 ‘…will still leave spending per pupil more than 60% higher [up to 2019/20] in real terms than in 2000– 01.’

But the IfS also made it clear that most of this rise in per pupil spending for five to sixteen year olds during this time happened under Labour governments:

‘Primary and secondary school spending per pupil rose by over 50% in real terms between 2000–01 and 2010–11…’

There had been a 5% real term rise per year in per pupil funding for five to sixteen year olds from 2000 to 2010/11 - a 50% rise in ten years, the IfS wrote.  This had been ‘largely protected in real terms’ during the Coalition.

What happened then?

Spending per pupil fell 4% in real terms between 2015–16 and 2017–18…

And then?

Spending ‘will be held constant in real terms up to 2019–20.

The data shows clearly that the rise in education funding followed this pattern:  Under Labour: up; Under Coalition: ‘largely’ constant; Under Tories: down for two years then constant.

If this weren’t bad enough, the DfE conveniently ignore other IfS findings:

Total school spending per pupil fell by 8% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017– 18, and will only be about 14% higher in real terms in 2017–18 than in 2003–04.’


16–18 education has been a big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 yearsSpending per student in 16–18 further education fell by 8% in real terms between 2010–11 and 2017–18 and by over 20% in school sixth forms.’

If funding for five to sixteen year olds is tough, funding for 16 to 18 year olds is dire.  The DfE can spin data until it becomes dizzy but it doesn’t alter this fact: state schools are creaking under funding pressures and post 16 it’s close to collapse.


UPDATE 24 May 11.32  Added link to IfS where summaries of the school funding report and the whole report can be downloaded

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