Published by Matthew Robb on 2 September 2015
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Spending on schools has almost doubled in the last decade in real terms:
The ring-fence is not justified by better outcomes
The schools budget in England has been ring-fenced since 2010-11. Ministers’ justification for higher school spending can only be that higher spending leads to better outcomes. Reform has therefore carried out an extensive comparison between funding and results:
There is also little link between resources and results at the national level. As Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s Deputy Director for Education, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, wrote for Reform in 2012: “spending per student explains just around one fifth of the performance variation observed in PISA. In other words, two countries with similar spending can produce very different educational results.”
Removing the ring-fence is consistent with good education
The ring-fence around the schools budget is damaging education:
Government policy is contradictory and confused
In other areas of policy including policing, criminal justice, local government and defence, Ministers have rightly argued that financial pressure can go hand in hand with innovation and better results. In an interview with The Times on 24 April, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury rightly said: “This should be seen as an opportunity as well as a challenge …. you can use the process to drive some really good changes in the way the public sector works.”
The Government should abolish the ring-fence around the schools budget in the forthcoming Spending Round, to be published on 26 June. The necessary cuts in the schools budget will depend on HM Treasury decisions in other spending areas. That said, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that average departmental spending will fall by around 18 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18 in real terms. Given the extremely high increases in school spending in recent years, an 18 per cent reduction would be a reasonable ambition for school spending in the 2015 Parliament.
For comparison, services such as policing and justice have seen budgets fall by 25 per cent in real terms in the 2010 Parliament alone. They expect further cuts in the 2015 Parliament.
In addition, the Government should not introduce a ring-fence for the pupil premium. It is important to recognise that greater funding alone will not lead to an improvement in outcomes for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is how schools spend money that is crucial.
For headteachers, the overriding priority should be to invest in the quality of teaching. Ministers should support schools that reduce numbers of teaching assistants and allow class sizes to rise. Ministers should also make the case that having a high quality teacher is more important than smaller class size.PDF DOWNLOAD