School funding is in the headlines again as the government tries to rationalise the current system. This rationalisation is long overdue but it is happening at a time when funding is tighter than at any time over the last 30 years. The inevitable result is that some schools will lose out. But the bigger story over the longer term is that schools have done rather well in terms of funding per pupil. Spending on sixth forms and further education, by contrast, has been continually squeezed. Spending per pupil in school is set to be at least 70% higher in 2020 than it was in 1990. Spending per pupil in sixth forms and FE is set to be no higher at all than it was in 1990.

These are among the findings from a new report by IFS researchers published today: Long-Run Comparisons of Spending per Pupil across Different Stages of Education, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. For the first time, this report provides consistent data on day-to-day or current spending per pupil on different stages of education in England over a long time period. The main graph for spending per pupil across different stages of education over time is shown in the notes to editors and all figures are presented in 2016–17 prices.

Key findings:

  • Early years education spending is now £2.3 billion a year, up from close to zero in the early 1990s. The government today spends £1,700 per child (aged 3 and 4) following the introduction and gradual expansion of the entitlement to free early education for 3 and 4 year olds over the late 1990s and 2000s.
  • Early-years spending is set to increase by 38% in real-terms between now and 2020 as the free entitlement for 3- and 4-year olds is increased from 15 to 30 hours for working parents. This will still, however, leave spending per child only around half the level of primary school spending per pupil.
  • The biggest real spending increases over the last two decades have been on school pupils.   Primary school and secondary school spending in England are currently £4,900 and £6,300 per pupil, respectively, both approximately double in real-terms compared with the mid-1990s.
  • School spending per pupil is set to fall by 6.5% between 2015–16 and 2019–20, the biggest fall in at least 30 years. However, some growth over the last parliament means that spending per pupil will still be similar to its level in 2010. Over the decade this reflects a considerable focus on protecting per pupil funding in schools at a time of more general public spending cuts.
  • Spending per student in further education is set to fall by around 13% between 2010-11 and 2019-20. Following smaller increases than in other areas of education during the 2000s and larger cuts in the 1990s, this will leave spending per student approximately the same in real-terms as it was in 1990. This comes in spite of a near doubling of public spending and a 77% increase in national income over the same period.
  • FE spending per student was 45% higher than secondary school spending per student in 1990. It will be 10% lower in 2019-20. This is a result of further education and sixth forms spending growing more slowly than school spending during periods of expansion and being less well protected from recent cuts.
  • Up front government spending on teaching each full time undergraduate in higher education in England was about £9,200 per year in 2015-16, about 55% higher in real-terms than in 1990. However, this reflects a very odd pattern of growth; despite having risen substantially overall, the level of up front spending per student available to universities (including tuition fees and teaching grants) has fallen in 18 of the last 26 years.
  • Reforms in 2012 greatly increased the level of resources available to universities and reduced the government’s long-run subsidy to higher education, with increased graduate contributions making up the difference. We estimate the long-run government subsidy per higher education course (excluding maintenance grants) was around £10,500 in 2012–13, one third the level in 1990 and lower than at any point between 1990 and 2012.

Luke Sibieta, an author of the report and an Associate Director at IFS said:

“The last 30 years have seen huge changes in spending priorities in education. There is a strong case for the increased spending on early years’ education. The rationale for focussing cuts on 16-18 year olds and in further education is much less obvious. The actions – as opposed to the rhetoric – of both Labour and Conservative governments suggest that they are agreed this is a low priority area for spending. Why they think that is unclear”.

Chris Belfield, another author of the report and a Research Economist at IFS said:

“The amount of resources spent on higher education is much higher now than it was 25 years ago. But it has been a bumpy ride. Across most years, spending has tended to fall, only to be corrected with large and irregular tuition fee reforms. This uncertainty is a major hindrance to universities when making long-term resource decisions.” 

Figure 6.1a
Notes: Dashed lines indicate plans. Early years relates to spending per child aged 3 and 4 taking up the entitlement to free childcare or education. Higher education resources represents total resources per student going to higher education institutions each year, including total tuition fees and teaching grants.
Any Apprenticeship Levy considerations were not included in the research because:
- At the time of writing, the extra amount to be spent on apprenticeships was unknown. It is now know this is likely to be around £640m, quite a bit less than the apprenticeship levy raises. Its also worth saying that with this extra spending will come more apprentices, so the change in spending per head is unlikely to be that great either.
- Most of the expansion of apprenticeships has happened amongst over 19s, and indeed mostly over 25s. There has been only a small increase in apprenticeships amongst the 16-18 year old group to date and this is not anticipated to change much.

‘Long-Run Comparisons of Spending per Pupil across Different Stages of Education’ by Christopher Belfield (IFS), Claire Crawford (IFS and University of Warwick) and Luke Sibieta (IFS). This research has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 4 hours 13 minutes ago

Matt’s the man for the job at Middlesbrough College Group: Middlesbrough College Group (@mbrocollege) has appointed…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page