According to information contained in a House of Commons Library research Report on Education Funding, the government is either shooting itself in the foot or presenting statistics in a manner that makes already challenging comparisons difficult, if not impossible.
The Library Research Paper, BRIEFING PAPER Number 1078, 9th October 2019 entitled: Education spending in the UK, states on page 11 that
“the Department for Education currently records all spending on academies under secondary education. Secondary schools account for most of the spending on academies, but there are also include large numbers of primary and special academies. They are looking to improve the separation of spending across the education categories in the future. This skews the primary/secondary breakdown somewhat and limits the comparisons of primary and secondary spending between the home countries of the UK.” (Their emphasis, not mine)
As the number of academies in the primary and secondary sector increases, this method or recording allied to the fact that academies and free schools have a different financial year to maintained schools makes comparisons even harder than before.
Nevertheless, the Report is able to demonstrate how closely funding follows two key influences; demography and the state of the economy. For the past few years, both of these have been negative in the sense that the economy took a hit after the banking crisis at just the time when the birth rate was rising to higher levels than previously. Both factors created an almost perfect storm, not least because rising pupil numbers means a greater percentage of education expenditure has to be used for capital projects rather than revenue spending. Add in the laudable decision to raise the learning leaving age to 18 from 16, and another funding pressure was added to the equation.
The cuts facing schools would undoubtedly have been worse, unless taxes had risen, if the contribution of participants to the funding of higher education had not been increased by the raising of tuition fees and also the manner in which these loans were accounted for on the government’s balance sheet.
The Report also notes that “In 2017 an estimated £23 billion was spent privately on education.” Citing Consumer trends, ONS, as the source of the figure. Now, I assume this will include all the funds parents spend on private tutoring ahead of exams, and on Maths Centres that have sprung up around the country, as well as what the Labour Party includes in its definition of private education that it would seek to abolish.
Apart from probably driving at least part of that provision of schooling offshore, where the export income would be lost to the National Exchequer, there would obviously be the cost of educating such pupils as needed to be educated by the State. I don’t know how many billions that would cost, but it would have to be found from somewhere.
However, I understand the feeling that education is so important that it cannot be left to personal choice, but only offered by the State. From there it is but a short step to mandating only one type of state school that parents have to send their children to attend. As a Liberal, this is not a road that I would want to go along.