‘Deprived schools face deepest cuts’ – IFS

Core spending per pupil in schools in England will still be about 1-2% lower in real terms in 2022-23 than in 2009, despite the government allocating over £7b extra in the 2019 spending round, with disadvantaged areas worst affected, according to a report today from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

This runs counter to the government’s objective of levelling up poorer parts of the country, says the report.

Schools serving the most disadvantaged pupils have seen the biggest cuts over the last decade. The National Funding Formula for schools, introduced in 1918, has ensured extra funding flows to areas that have become more disadvantaged over time, but as a whole, the formula has provided a bigger funding boost to more affluent areas than to disadvantaged areas, the report finds

The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, excludes extra spending during the pandemic, such as the £3 billion allocated so far for catch-up spending.

Among the main findings:

  • Total school spending per pupil in England was just over £6,500 in the latest complete year of data in 2019–20. This is 9% lower in real terms than its high-point of £7,200 in 2009–10.

  • The government has allocated an extra £7.1 billion for schools in England through to 2022–23. Whilst this will increase spending per pupil by over 8%, school spending per pupil in 2022–23 will still be 1% lower than in 2009–10 after accounting for overall inflation or 2% after accounting for the growth in specific costs faced by schools.

  • Deprived schools have seen larger cuts. The most deprived secondary schools saw a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009–10 and 2019–20, compared with a 9% drop for the least deprived schools.

  • Whilst the National Funding Formula for schools has helped to ensure funding for different areas reflects the way they have changed over time, it has also provided bigger funding boosts for the least deprived schools. Between 2017–18 and 2022–23, funding allocated for the least deprived schools will increase by 8–9% in real terms compared with 5% for the most deprived schools.

  • Over the long run, spending per pupil has gone up faster in primary schools than in secondary schools. In the late 1980s, secondary school spending per pupil was over 60% higher than spending in primary schools. In 2019–20, the difference was only 14%.

Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow and author of the report, said:

‘The 9% fall in school spending per pupil in England over the decade between 2009 and 2019 is the largest in more than 40 years, and probably a lot longer. The fact that it still won’t have recovered back to 2009 levels by 2022 shows just how big the squeeze has been. This will make it that much harder for schools to address the major challenge of helping pupils catch up on lost learning alongside everything else they are required to do.

‘Schools serving disadvantaged communities face the biggest challenges. They faced the biggest cuts up to 2019 and are now receiving the smallest rises. This pattern runs counter to the government’s aim of levelling up poorer parts of the country.’

The report concludes that ‘it is particularly concerning that cuts in school spending over the last decade have been larger for more deprived schools, with the most deprived secondary schools seeing a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009–10 and 2019–20. This has already meant that the additional funding received by the most deprived schools relative to the least deprived schools has fallen back to the ratio of the early 2000s. The National Funding Formula has continued this trend by providing larger increases in funding to schools in richer areas between 2017–18 and 2022–23.

‘This runs counter to the government’s objective of levelling up poorer parts of the country and will make it that much harder for schools in deprived areas to catch up with lost learning after the pandemic.