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Government spending on children 'drops 10%'

Children's commissioner highlights cost pressure on high-needs budgets and post-16 education

Chldren's commissioner Anne Longfield

Children's commissioner highlights cost pressure on high-needs budgets and post-16 education

The government is spending 10 per cent less public money per child than it was at the start of the decade, a report has revealed.

The research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies looks at spending on children by different government departments – excluding health – and warns of cost pressures in the education sector.

It shows there has been a 7 per cent real terms cut in secondary school funding over 10 years and a fall in per-pupil funding in recent years.

In addition, the report – published by children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield – says that the cost of the current social care system is unsustainable and warns that vital preventative and support services for children are being cut back.

The report reveals that £10,000 is spent per child each year by the government – a total of more than £120 billion.

This figure is 42 per cent higher in real terms than in 2000-01 but 10 per cent lower than the £11,300 spent when funding peaked in 2010-11.

It also highlights high needs budgets and post-16 education as areas facing particular pressure.

According to the report, education spending for pupils aged 4-16 has been “broadly sustained”, but sixth form and further education spending per student will sink to the same level as 30 years ago by 2020.

It shows that £35 billion is being spent on education each year, including £12.2 billion on primary schools and £10.7 billion on secondaries.

Primary school spending will increase by 7 per cent from 2009-10 to 2019-20. However, secondary school spending will fall by 7 per cent in the same period – at a time when pupil numbers are rising.

The report says that this will take per-pupil funding at primary schools back to where it was in 2011-12, while at secondary school it will be 3 per cent lower than at the same point.

The report says: “In both cases, spending per pupil rose slightly under the coalition, then fell slightly up to 2017-18 and is now due to be frozen up until 2019-20."

This analysis follows warnings from the IFS that schools are facing real terms cuts of almost 5 per cent over four years to 2019.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: "This report confirms what NAHT has been saying for some time and the government really needs to own up to the fact that per pupil funding is falling in real terms.

"School and college funding is the issue that just won’t go away. There are too many parents, teachers, governors and school leaders pushing for more money for their children for the government to ignore these calls any longer."

The largest drop in education funding identified in the new report is to school sixth forms, which are said to be falling by 20 per cent over the course of the decade.

The report warns that 16-18 spending, including sixth forms and further education, is likely to be at the same level in 2019-20 as it was in 1989-90.

It also highlights how the numbers of pupils in maintained special schools increased by 25 per cent between 2007 and 2017, far outstripping overall pupil growth and putting pressure on high needs budgets and overall schools funding. 

Ms Longfield said: “I hope this analysis will help to move the debate on from one simply about the amount we spend on children, to a debate about how we spend it.

“Next year’s spending review offers an opportunity to step in and support these children falling through the gaps, avoiding government silos and designing cross-departmental services built around a clear identification of the unmet needs of kids.

"Spending allocations should be seen through the prism of the child, not the prism of which bit of Whitehall thinks it can spend it best.”

The Department for Education has been approached for a comment.

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