Sixth forms hit by 21 per cent fall in spending since 2010

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Sixth-form per-student spending has dropped dramatically over the past eight years, while schools as a whole are spending eight per cent less per-pupil. Pete Henshaw reports

Per-student spending in school sixth forms has fallen by 21 per cent in real-terms since its peak in 2010/11 and is lower than at any point since 2002/03.

Further education spending per student has also fallen by eight per cent in real-terms.

The figures are included in the first annual report on education spending in England, which has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation and compiled by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The report concludes that 16 to 18 education has been the “big loser” in education spending changes over the last 25 years.

For schools, the report reveals that total school spending per pupil has fallen by eight per cent in real-terms between 2009/10 and 2017/18. It says this has been driven by a 55 per cent cut to local authority spending on services and the 21 per cent cut to sixth form funding.

The report states that the per-pupil funding provided to primary and secondary schools has fared slightly better, although has still fallen by four per cent in real-terms since 2015.

Education spending is the second-largest element of public service spending in the UK behind health and totalled about £90 billion in 2017/18 – about 4.3 per cent of national income.

Total spending on schools represented £42 billion in 2017/18 – roughly £4,700 per-pupil at primary school and £6,200 at secondary school.

The report states: “Total school spending per-pupil fell by eight per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2017/18 and will only be about 14 per cent higher in real terms in 2017/18 than in 2003/04.

“This adds on the additional effect of a 55 per cent real-terms cut in local authority service spending and a real-terms cut of more than 20 per cent to school sixth form spending per student between 2009/10 and 2017/18. Spending per pupil by individual schools was partly buttressed by transfers of responsibility and funding from local authorities to schools. This total measure is probably the most comprehensive measure of public spending on schools over time.”

The report warns that the removal of the public sector pay cap and other costs for employers mean that since 2015 school costs are “likely to have significantly outpaced inflation … adding to pressure on school budgets”.

However, it is in post-16 education where the axe has fallen hardest, the report warns.

It says that by 2019/20, funding per young person in further education will be around the same as in 2006/07 – and only 10 per cent higher than it was 30 years earlier. Spending per student in school sixth forms will be lower than at any point since at least 2002.

The report adds: “Total spending on 16 to 18 education in England was just under £5.8 billion in 2017/18. Spending per student in further education and sixth-form colleges was about £5,700 in 2017/18, while that in school sixth forms was about £5,000. This lower level of spending per student in school sixth forms is a dramatic reversal: in the mid-2000s, spending per student was about £600 higher than in further education and sixth-form colleges.”

It adds: “16 to 18 education has been a big loser from education spending changes over the last 25 years. In 1990/91, spending per student in further education was 50 per cent higher than spending per student in secondary schools, but it is now about eight per cent lower.”

Luke Sibieta, co-author of the report and a research fellow at the IFS, said: “Over the last 30 years, there have been some remarkable changes in the pattern of education spending. Spending on early education has gone from almost nothing to £3 billion since the early 1990s. Spending per student in higher education has risen by nearly 60 per cent since 1997.

“Spending per school pupil rose by more than 50 per cent over the 2000s, though it has fallen by eight per cent since 2010 once you include cuts to local authority spend and school sixth forms. In this context, the almost complete lack of growth in spending on further education is all the more remarkable.”

Commenting on the report, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Parents will be horrified to learn of the damage that has been done to sixth forms and colleges by severe real-terms cuts in government funding. They may also wonder why the basic rate of funding for each of these students is just £4,000 compared to tuition fees at university which can be as high as £9,250.

“There is no rhyme or reason for the extremely low level of funding for 16 to 18-year-olds, and without the additional investment that is desperately needed more courses and student support services will have to be cut in addition to those which have already been lost. It is a crucial phase of education in which young people take qualifications which are vital to their life chances and they deserve better from a government which constantly talks about social mobility.

“The government’s under-investment in 16 to 18 education is part of a wider picture of real-terms cuts to school funding which is putting hard-won standards at risk.”


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