Experts agree school funding is falling per-pupil

29 March 2017
What was claimed

The government has protected the budget for schools.

Our verdict

That was correct in the recent past, and in the near future in terms of the overall amount. But per-pupil funding once inflation is taken into account is set to fall over the next few years.

What was claimed

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, National Audit Office, Education Policy Institute and Public Accounts Committee all agree that per-pupil spending in schools will be reduced in real terms over the next few years.

Our verdict


“We have protected schools budgets and we're putting record funding into schools.”

Theresa May, 29 March 2017

“[The Public Accounts Committee] say that funding per pupil is reducing in real terms and goes on to say schools' budgets will be cut by £3 billion, equivalent to 8% by 2020 […] If the Prime Minister is right then the parents are wrong, the teachers are wrong, the IFS is wrong, the National Audit Office is wrong, the Education Policy Institute is wrong, and now the Public Accounts Committee, which includes eight Conservative members in it, is also wrong.”

Jeremy Corbyn, 29 March 2017

Mrs May is correct that spending on state schools in England is at record levels and has been protected. This means that it’s increasing in line with inflation, and spending per pupil is also being maintained in cash terms.

But once inflation and rising pupil numbers are factored in together, there will actually be a per-pupil reduction in spending. This is what Mr Corbyn is talking about.

The Public Accounts Committee of MPs  noted on 22 March that schools would need to make “economies and efficiency savings” of £1.1 billion in 2016/17, according to the Department for Education. These would have to reach £3 billion by 2019/20, or 8% of the total schools’ budget.

The Committee also said there would be a reduction in real-terms per-pupil spending, quoting evidence from the National Audit Office. The NAO has said that spending per-pupil will decrease by 8% between 2014/15 and 2019/20, after inflation is factored in. That’s mostly down to rising pupil numbers and increasing costs from staff wages and pension schemes.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also said that school spending per-pupil “has been frozen in cash terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20, resulting in a real-terms cut of 6.5%”.

The Education Policy Institute, a think tank, has also said that “once inflation and other pressures are taken into account, all schools in England are likely to see real terms cuts in funding per pupil over the next three years”. It put together some projections as to how cost pressures might affect schools in the coming years, though we’ve not had time to check all these yet.

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