The IFS said that the cuts in England are driven by a combination of a greater fall in spending by local authorities and school sixth form spending plus faster growth in pupil numbers. “As a result, the gap in school spending per pupil between England and Wales has been virtually eliminated,” it said in research to be published on Thursday.
The new estimates come as Damian Hinds, the education secretary in London, is expected to lobby the Treasury for additional funding in the next spending round, while teachers await news of the latest pay recommendations expected within the next few weeks.
If, as expected, teachers receive a more generous pay offer, Hinds will be under pressure for extra money to avoid schools having to meet the pay rise from their existing budgets.
While the government in London argues that spending has risen by 1% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18, as a result of its decision to protect school funding, the IFS explains that a 10% rise in pupil numbers in England has more than counteracted the level of cuts in Wales, where pupil numbers are largely unchanged.
As a result, in real terms, spending has fallen by 8% in England, compared with Wales’s 5%, so that the gap in spending has fallen from £300 per pupil to just £100, which the IFS describes as “a modest difference”. But even that gap in England is eroded by higher costs that some schools face, especially in London, with higher teacher salaries.
Nationally, the IFS calculates that schools in England receive £5,870 per pupil, while their counterparts in Wales receive an average of £5,760.
Explaining how its figures differ from those of the London government, the IFS said: “Our bigger estimated cut of 8% between 2009-10 and 2017-18 includes the additional effects of much larger cuts to school sixth form spending per pupil (25%) and local authority spending (55%). Local authority services include spending on home-to-school transport, additional support for pupils with special educational needs, central administration.”
“School spending per pupil has fallen by more in England than in Wales over the last eight years, virtually eliminating the gap in spending per pupil between the two countries,” said Luke Sibieta, an IFS research fellow.
“Policymakers in both England and Wales have chosen to protect spending directly allocated to schools for pupils under 16, and to make much larger cuts to sixth form allocations and to local authority spending.
“Schools in England have faced the additional pressure of a fast-growing pupil population, whilst numbers in Wales have remained roughly constant.”
The Department for Education says that by 2020, core school funding in England will rise to a record £43.5bn, while the introduction of its new national funding formula will address “historic disparities in the system” and see traditionally underfunded rural areas receive a boost.