UK Schools Face Severe Strain Despite Government Efforts to Reverse Cuts, Institute for Fiscal Studies Warns
Efforts by the UK government to reverse years of spending cuts for schools in England will still fall short of covering their escalating costs, leaving state education under severe strain, according to a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).
The government has been increasing school budgets in an attempt to undo the cuts made during the years of austerity after 2010. The Department for Education claims that “funding will be at its highest ever level in real terms per pupil” next year, with a record £60 billion ($72.9 billion) of support.
However, the IFS has warned that this boost will not fully compensate for the shortfall. The research reveals that school budgets will still be approximately 3% lower in 2024-2025 than they were in 2009-2010, as costs continue to rise at a faster rate than economy-wide inflation.
This study highlights the mounting pressures faced by the English state education sector, which could pose a problem for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of the expected general election next year. According to the IFS report, budgets will remain tight even after 2025, as government plans do not include any further real-terms increases. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently expressed his aim to find further efficiencies in public services to create room for tax cuts.
Schools have faced significant challenges since the onset of the pandemic, with increased levels of absence and teachers striking for better pay. Last month, dozens of schools were forced to close due to concerns about buildings with weak reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) that could potentially collapse. In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to prioritize education funding.
“Why? Because it is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet,” he stated. “It is the best economic policy, the best social policy, the best moral policy. It is the best way to spread opportunity and to create a more prosperous society.”
The IFS analysis confirms that the government’s claim about funding per pupil reaching a record high next year is accurate when using prices in the economy as a whole. However, school costs are rising at a much faster rate, resulting in reduced spending power for institutions.
The IFS report states, “General measures of economy-wide inflation are not currently providing an accurate picture of the cost pressures actually faced by schools. Their costs are growing faster, particularly support staff pay, energy, and food costs.”
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Education remarked, “School funding will be 3% higher, in real terms per pupil, in 2024-25 compared to 2010. That includes an additional £2 billion for both this year and next, recognizing the higher costs schools are facing and matching both inflation and what the unions told us was needed.”
Daniel Kebede, the General Secretary of the National Education Union, commended the report as a “valuable contribution to the debate.” He emphasized that the headline figures on education funding do not translate into increased funding per pupil once school-specific costs are taken into account.
“The education system also needs to deal with past underspending on capital projects, which has resulted in the RAAC crisis,” Kebede added. “We currently spend around £2.6 billion a year. It needs to rise to at least £7 billion a year to fix the school estate.”
The IFS report sheds light on the ongoing challenges faced by schools in England, as they struggle to cope with rising costs despite government efforts to reverse previous cuts. With education funding remaining a pressing issue, it is likely to become a key topic of discussion in the upcoming general election.
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