Spending on education by councils in Scotland has fallen by up to 20 per cent over six years, according to new figures.
The figures, published today, show that, since 2010-11, real-terms spending per primary and secondary pupil has fallen by 9.6 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively, which translates as £513 less per primary pupil and £205 less per secondary pupil.
But these numbers mask large variations across Scotland. For example, while some councils have cut spending by as much as a fifth, others have upped their education budgets by 7.8 per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17.
The average spend per primary pupil last year was £4,804; at secondary level, the per-pupil spend was £6,817. Here again, the report highlighted “a considerable” variation between councils, “particularly for secondary education”.
In primary education, costs ranged from £4,105 per pupil in Edinburgh to £8,394 per pupil in the Western Isles (£4,105 to £5,775 excluding islands, which tend to spend more on education due their remoteness).
For secondary schools, the range was £5,844 per pupil in Renfrewshire to £11,968 per pupil in Orkney (£5,844 to £8,433 excluding islands).
The report – called the National Benchmarking Overview Report 2016-17 and compiled by local authorities so they can compare their performance – said the variance in per-pupil spend could be explained by teacher demographics, local choices around support staff, teaching assistants, support for children with additional support needs, and the promoted post structure in schools.
Overall, the report said that there had been real reductions in the education budget of almost 3.8 per cent since 2010-11 across Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
It said that education spending had been “relatively protected” – but it also highlighted that in some councils the real reduction in education spending was as much as 20 per cent.
'A financial precipice'
Council bosses said they were dealing with huge financial pressure. Moray warned that it stood “on the edge of a financial precipice".
However, today's report said that, despite reductions in funding, attendance and exclusion rates had improved over the period and “educational outcomes continue to show positive progress, particularly for children from the most deprived areas”.
Every qualification that a pupil attains in school is given a “tariff score” – for instance, a grade B at National 5 English (roughly equivalent to GCSE in England) would be worth 74 tariff points.
According to the report, the average tariff score has improved by 15.1 per cent since 2011-12, and 1.1 per cent in the past 12 months. Pupils from the most deprived areas have had the fastest rate of improvement (30.5 per cent since 2011-12 and 3.5 per cent in the past 12 months).
However, the report highlighted that there were “still major inequalities in attainment between the most deprived pupils and others”.
Commenting on the report, Alison Evison, the president of council umbrella body Cosla, said the data clearly demonstrated that “councils and schools are closing the attainment gap”.
She added: “There are, however, still major inequalities in attainment between the most deprived pupils and others.
"Continuing reform and improvement is essential, but it is critical to ensure that continued reform does not disrupt the stable and consistent improvement trend already there, as schools, councils and regional improvement collaboratives adjust to new roles and relationships.”