From education to employment

Gap in spending per student between private and state schools has more than doubled over the last decade

Dr Luke Sibieta, Research Fellow at EPI

In the most recent year (2020-21), average private school fees were about £13,600. That is £6,500, or over 90%, higher than total state school spending per pupil in England in the same year (£7,100). This gap has more than doubled over the last decade and compares with a gap of £3,100, or 39%, in 2009-10 (£11,100 for private school fees compared with £8,000 spending per student in state schools). 

Private school fees have grown by more than 20% after inflation since 2009-10. At the same time, core or day-to-day state school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real-terms, or by 14% if we include the effects of cuts to capital spending. 

Figures for private school fees are shown net of bursaries and discounts, and exclude the cost of accommodation and boarding. Figures for state schools relate to both day-to-day and capital spending in England. All figures are in 2021-22 prices. This analysis was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and forms part of a larger programme of work examining trends and challenges in education spending across different phases.

Luke Sibieta, IFS Research Fellow and author of “The growing gap between state school and private school spending“, said

“Over the last decade, the gap in spending per student between private and state schools has more than doubled from a gap (after adjusting for inflation) of £3,100 in in 2009-10 to £6,500 in 2020-21. Indeed, private school fees are now over 90% higher than average spending per student in state schools in England.

“Fees in private sixth forms are about three times higher than per student funding in state sixth forms. Whilst day-to-day state school spending per student has fallen by 9% in real-terms over the last decade, private school fees have gone up by 20%. At the same time, numbers of pupils in private school fees have remained pretty much constant. Longstanding concerns about inequalities between private and state school pupils, which have come into sharp focus during the pandemic, will not begin to be easily addressed while the sectors enjoy such different levels of resourcing”.

Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing the gap in spending per student between state and private schools has doubled over the last decade, said:

“School budgets have been hammered over the last decade which is holding children back. As state school class sizes have soared and enriching activities – art, sport, music, drama – have been cut back, the gap with private schools has grown ever wider.

“Labour’s recovery plan would extend the school day for new activities for all, and by ending private school’s tax exemptions we would invest in state schools with 6,500 new teachers, and careers advice and work experience so every child gets an excellent education which sets them up for life.

“The Conservatives have allowed young people across the state sector to be denied opportunities enjoyed by their peers. It’s time for Ministers to step-up and match Labour’s ambition for all children.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The fact is that per-pupil spending in real terms is lower now than it was a decade ago for state funded education. The Government’s failure to invest in schools over the past decade has forced them to cut back on staff, support for pupils, and activities that enrich the school day. A far more ambitious programme of investment is required from the Government if schools are going to be able to deliver the education that the current generation of pupils need and deserve.”

A Department for Education spokesman said:

“This government is providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade – £14 billion in total over the three years to 2022-23. This includes a £7.1 billion increase in funding for schools by 2022-23, compared to 2019-20 funding levels.

“Next year, funding through the schools national funding formula (NFF) is increasing by 2.8% per pupil compared to 2021-22. The NFF continues to distribute this fairly, based on the needs of schools and their pupil cohorts.”

Additional Information from DfE:

“We invested £23bn in the school estate from 2016-17 to 2020-21 to deliver new school places, rebuild or refurbish buildings in the worst condition and deliver thousands of condition projects across the school estate. In addition, we are investing a total of £5.6 billion of capital funding to support the education sector this year.

“Secondary schools will get an average of £6,150 per pupil including premises while primary schools will get an average of £4,800 per pupil including premises as Government funding increases continue. This is an increase of £120 for each child in primary school and £160 per pupil at secondary compared to 2021-22.

“Evidence shows that pupils with additional needs are more likely to fall behind and need extra support to reach their full potential. This is why the NFF allocates 17% (£6.7bn) of all funding through additional needs factors based on deprivation, low prior attainment, English as an additional language and mobility. The total amount allocated through the deprivation factors are increasing by £225 million, or 6.7%, in 2022-23.

“We have also committed to an ambitious, long-term education recovery plan, investing over £3 billion and significantly expanding our tutoring programme to support children and young people to make up for learning lost during the pandemic.”

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