School funding per pupil falls faster in England than in Wales

Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies has revealed that between 2009-10 and 2017-18, total school spending per pupil in England fell by about eight per cent in real terms, compared to about five per cent in Wales.

The greater cuts in England are driven by a combination of a greater fall in spending by local authorities and school sixth form spending alongside faster growth in pupil numbers. As a result, the gap in school spending per pupil between England and Wales has been virtually eliminated.

The research found that total school spending in England has actually risen by around one per cent in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18, whilst it has fallen by around five per cent in Wales. However, because pupil numbers have risen by around ten per cent in England and been fairly constant in Wales, these have translated into faster cuts in spending per pupil in England (eight per cent) than in Wales (five per cent).

If you just look at money that goes directly to schools for pupils up to age 16 then school spending per pupil was protected in real terms under the coalition government and then cut by about 4% in real terms between 2015 and 2017.

The IFS’ bigger estimated cut of eight per cent between 2009–10 and 2017–18 includes the additional effects of much larger cuts to school sixth form spending per pupil (25 per cent) and local authority spending (55 per cent). Local authority services include spending on home-to-school transport, additional support for pupils with special educational needs, central administration

Although total school spending per pupil has fallen by 5% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2017–18, funding provided direct to schools has actually increased by 7% in real terms. As in England, the cut in total school spending has been driven by large cuts to school sixth form funding (22%) and local authority spending (38%) in Wales.

In 2017–18 total school spending per pupil in England was about £5,870 which was just 2% – or £100 per pupil – above the £5,760 seen in Wales (both in 2018–19 prices). This is a modest difference, which will include funding for higher teacher salaries in London. The gap in spending is also much lower than in 2009–10 when we estimate that spending per pupil was about £300 higher in England than in Wales.

The estimated gap of £300 per pupil in 2009–10 is also lower than the Welsh government’s previous estimate of £600. The IFS' lower estimate results from a combination of refined data sources and methods, which fully account for the differences in the school funding systems across the two countries.

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