Schools will have less to spend per pupil by 2020

21 February 2017
What was claimed

The National Audit Office said that schools face real term cuts of 8% by 2019/20.

Our verdict

The National Audit Office said that although overall spending on schools will increase between 2014/15 and 2019/20, increasing pupil numbers and staff costs mean they will need to spend 8% less per pupil.

“A report by the National Audit Office has said schools face cuts of 8% in real terms by 2019/20.”

Guardian, 17 January 2017

Overall government spending on English schools is set to increase by 2019/20, but increasing costs from things like staffing and pensions, means that schools will have to spend less per pupil in order to keep in line with budgets. In other words, schools will be given more money from the government, but their costs are set to grow by even more.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has said that per pupil spending in mainstream schools will need to decrease by 8% between 2014/15 and 2019/20, after inflation, to account for these extra costs.

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An 8% reduction in per pupil spending

Spending on mainstream schools is set to increase from just under £35 billion in 2015/16 to around £38 billion in 2019/20.

But there are a number of “pressures” that schools will have to deal with during this time which the NAO have identified. These include rising pupil numbers and increasing costs from staff wages and pension schemes.

Because of these pressures the Department for Education has estimated the savings schools will need to make in other parts of their budgets. By 2019/20 schools will need to save £3 billion. About 57% of that is expected to come from staffing costs.

It is these changes that amount to an 8% reduction in spending per pupil, something that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has also said and we’ve written about before.

The NAO also says it doesn’t know if these spending reductions “will be achieved in practice”.

The rules on how money is allocated to schools will be changing too

Schools have money allocated to them by their local council largely based on the number of pupils and the deprivation in the area. It can also use other factors to decide how much to allocate like how well the school has performed in the past or how many children in care attend the school.

The money councils have to give to schools in their area is determined by the government and based on how much money the council has received per pupil in previous years.

This means that there’s no national set of rules for how spending is allocated to pupils across the whole country which the government says is “unfair, untransparent and out of date”.

It plans to introduce new funding rules for schools in 2018/19 which will make schools’ budgets more certain each year but according to the NAO could mean “budgets of schools which currently have high levels of funding being reduced, and more poorly funded schools having their budgets increased”.

Overall school spending increased between 2010 and 2014

Spending on schools, in real terms, increased by 3% overall and 0.6% per pupil between 2010/11 and 2014/15, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

It said that spending on schools was “relatively protected”. Across all public services spending fell by 8% over the same period. This relative protection will continue, according to the IFS: it expects some government departments to have to reduce their spending by over a quarter by 2019/20.

This is just about ‘mainstream’ state schools in England

The National Audit Office’s findings apply to “mainstream schools”, which are all government funded schools excluding special schools and alternative provision schools.

There were 20,179 of these state-funded primary and secondary schools in England in January 2016. These schools taught 7.8 million children and just over 6.4 million were between the age of five and 15.

Spending on pupils older than the age of 15 comes from a separate pot of money.

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