Per-pupil spending in England will be ‘almost back’ to 2009/10 levels in real terms by 2022/23, says the Institute for Government. That’s three years before funding is restored to pre-Coalition levels.
School funding is ‘complicated’. That’s because there are several income streams including local authority (LA) funding and capital spending.
The IfG found day-to-day* school spending increased slightly by 1.1% between 2011/12 and 2015/16 but this wasn’t uniform across sectors. Primary per-pupil spending rose by 7.2% in real terms. But secondary per-pupil spending fell by 2.9%. After 2015/16, average per-pupil spending ‘fell by 4.1% in real terms’ across both sectors: spending didn’t keep pace with rising pupil numbers.
There’s no precise spending data before 2011/12 because the DfE doesn’t have accurate figures about academy spending before then. Consistent data wasn’t available until 2011/12. That’s why figures above start at 2011/12 not when the Coalition took office. The IfG reckons school spending in real terms rose by 4% between 2011/12 and 2017/18 but the calculation was difficult. The spending increase may be overestimated.
Despite doubts over pre-2011/12 data, the IfG cites the IFS finding that total school spending in England ‘fell by 8% between 2009/10 and 2018/19’. This was ‘primarily’ caused by cuts to LA services for schools.
LA spending fell by 57% in the same period. These cuts ‘may’ have caused financial pressures if schools decided to pay for services previously provided by LAs rather than dropping them altogether.
Spending on school sixth forms dropped by nearly a third (30%). This expenditure is excluded from IfG’s analysis above which concentrates on spending for 5-15 year-olds.
The DfE introduced a School Financial Health and Efficiency programme in 2016 to help schools save money but ‘there are few signs this had led to major savings’.
In 2017/18, the DfE piloted** sending ‘school resource management advisers’ (SRMAs) into schools to recommend economies and ways of generating revenue. It’s unclear how far the proposals lead to ‘genuine efficiencies’ or are cost-cutting which could reduce education quality.
The IfG urges the DfE to explore how schools can really become more efficient while not cutting corners. It might be possible for schools to reduce spending by, say, increasing class sizes or sacking teaching assistants, but the government hasn’t ‘been explicit’ about whether such changes are ‘either possible – or politically acceptable’.
This analysis is important. Academies who apply for money to refurbish buildings will now have eligibility points deducted if they don’t submit a revised financial plan after an SRMA visit. But Schools Week reported in March that some SRMA advice contained measures such as using support staff instead of experienced teachers and limiting lunch portions. Such methods do not have the best interests of children at heart.
FOOTNOTE: The IfG also wrote about other subjects such as SEND provision and teacher recruitment and retention. I have concentrated only on funding.
*Excluding capital expenditure
**£2.3m was allocated to the pilot, Schools Week reported.
CORRECTION 13 November 08.51. Clumsy grammar in one sentence was changed.