School funding: Why it costs £73,000 to educate a child

The amount spent on schools is a source of frequent controversy. So, where does all the money for educating the country’s children go? Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports for the BBC.

It’s a fact that spending on schools in England is much higher than it was 20 years ago. But that’s not the full picture in a country which has seen a population boom coincide with a squeeze on public spending.

As a result, funding decisions – which have favoured poorer and younger pupils in recent years – are watched closely, as Chancellor Philip Hammond discovered when his announcement of £400m for schools to spend on “little extras” was met with anger.

Spending on schools is not shared out equally. The amount spent on each primary school child in England in 2017-18 was £4,700, compared with £6,200 for secondary school children.

However, priorities have shifted, with per pupil spending on primary schools increasing by 135% since 1990 after accounting for inflation, compared with 86% for secondaries. Early years education has also become a growing area of spending, but remains relatively small.

There has been less money for older children, with spending on further education students aged 16-18 up only 10% since the early 90s.

One of the biggest changes in education spending has been for very young children. Parents of all three and four-year-olds are now entitled to 15 hours a week free childcare, for 38 weeks a year.

Looking across the UK, real terms cuts in school spending per pupil have been largest in Northern Ireland (9%), where pupil numbers have also grown. Cuts have been smaller in Wales (5%) and Scotland (3%), where pupil numbers have been steady.

The number of young people continuing in full-time education after the age of 16 has more than doubled – from four out of 10 in the mid-1980s to eight out of 10 now. This is largely because young people in England now have to continue in education or training until they are 18.

However, the reduction in per pupil spending has been greater for this group than others, with sixth forms and further education colleges seeing the smallest increases over the past 30 years.

Read more analysis on deprived schools, teacher recruitment, further and higher education  School funding: Why it costs £73,000 to educate a child

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