DfE ‘record school funding’ mantra ‘not helpful’

Thinktank casts doubt on the impact of the Department for Education's efforts to help schools reduce cost pressures

The government's claim that more money is being put into education than ever before is not helpful, says one IFS expert

The Department for Education's repeated assertion that school funding is at record levels "doesn't really help anyone", an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expert has said.

The respected thinktank published research earlier this week confirming that total school spending per pupil fell by 8 per cent in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

Headteachers and governors have warned that the financial squeeze has led to staff cuts, bigger classes and a narrowing of the curriculum.

However, when asked about funding pressures, the DfE routinely says that overall school funding is at record levels, most recently saying that “by 2020, school funding will rise to a record £43.5 billion”.

When asked by Tes whether the repeated DfE mantra about “record funding” was helpful or disingenuous, Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the IFS, said: “Just saying it’s at record levels doesn’t really help anyone. It’s important to see the full historical context and the challenges facing schools at the moment.”

School funding claim 'hopelessly misleading'

And David Laws, a former schools minister who now chairs the Education Policy Institute thinktank, said: “Like any government statistic, it’s accurate but hopelessly misleading.”

The DfE declined to comment on criticism of its line that it is putting more money into schools than ever before, and instead referred to an earlier DfE statement which said: “We are putting more money into our schools than ever before."

In an interview with Tes last month, education secretary Damian Hinds acknowledged that "funding is tight" but offered schools no hope of extra funding to come.

Instead, he highlighted DfE work to help to reduce cost pressures.

Mr Sibieta cast doubt on the difference that such money-saving efforts might make.

He said: “Clearly schools might be able to save money by reorganising budgets, but I’m sure headteachers and governors have been, were and will forever more be on top of trying to find savings from existing budgets, just like any other organisations.

“The problem for schools is that they are being asked to do so much more, so these cuts to local authority spending mean that they now have to take on other responsibilities about buying in services, often providing mental health and pastoral services as well, and doing that from a shrinking budget is very, very hard.

“Whether you can save enough money from reorientating your back-office budget, I’m not sure.”

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