Brutal cuts to education funding over the last decade are “without precedent in postwar UK history” – and have hit the most deprived schools hardest, new analysis shows.
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies reveals how the most disadvantaged fifth of secondary schools have faced the biggest cuts, with a 14 per cent real-terms drop in spending per pupil between 2009 and 2019, compared with nine per cent for the least deprives schools.
It adds that recent changes to the distribution of education funding has exacerbated that disadvantage by providing bigger real-terms increases for the least deprived schools, putting the government’s levelling-up agenda further out of reach.
According to the IFS’s annual report on education spending in England, published on Tuesday, public spending on health has increased while education investment has shrunk.
In the early 1990s, health and education spending each comprised around 4.5 per cent of national income. While education has remained at a similar level, health spending rose to seven per cent of national income before the pandemic.
Colleges and sixth-forms have faced the biggest cuts. Even with additional funding from the recent spending review, spending per student will still be lower in 2024 than in 2010, the report says.
The IFS said: “The cuts to education spending over the last decade are effectively without precedent in postwar UK history, including a nine per cent real-terms fall in school spending per pupil and a 14 per cent fall in spending per student in colleges.
“Whilst we have been choosing to spend an ever expanding share of national income on health, we have remarkably reduced the fraction of national income we devote to public spending on education.”
On the government’s stated aim to level up poorer areas of the country, a large part of which is an increased role for technical education, the think-tank added: “However, changes to the distribution of education spending have been working in the opposite direction.
“Recent school funding changes have tended to work against schools serving disadvantaged areas. Cuts to spending have been larger for colleges and adult education, and still won’t be reversed by 2024.”
Luke Sibieta, author of the report, said: “Extra funding in the spending review will reverse cuts to school spending per pupil, but will mean 15 years without any overall growth.
“Recent funding changes have also worked against schools serving disadvantaged communities.
“This will make it that much harder to achieve ambitious goals to level up poorer areas of the country and narrow educational inequalities, which were gaping even before the pandemic.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told The Guardian the IFS report was a “grim indictment” of the government. “It is a pretty dreadful legacy to have presided over cuts to education which are without precedent in postwar UK history.”