Spending on education, and public services more generally, is likely to be a big issue in the coming general election.

We’re yet to know the detail of what will feature in each of the main parties’ manifestos, but whoever wins we’re likely to see a marked loosening of the purse strings compared to recent times.

The Conservatives got in early, with an announcement at the end of August of £2.6bn more for schools next year, rising to £7.1bn by 2022/23, as well as £1.5bn per year to cover higher teacher pension costs.

But such an increase would come after a real-terms cut in school spending per pupil of 8% between 2009–10 and 2019–20. Some other areas within the Department for Education’s remit – notably post-16 education – have had an even worse financial settlement in recent years than schools have.

Visualising education spending

It’s often hard to tell how different elements of education spending compare to one another. To try to help with this, we’ve visualised spending on education by central government between April 2018 to March 2019.

It focuses on money paid to other organisations by the DfE and its executive agencies such as the Education and Skills Funding Agency in grant funding – not shown are operating costs of the DfE itself. (These totalled £950m for the DfE and its executive agencies in 2018/19.) And capital expenditure is not shown.

It’s also worth saying that it isn’t a complete picture of education spending: it shows central government spending only, so things like schools’ self-generated income don’t feature. Percentage changes in spending are also just that – and don’t take into account increasing pupil numbers, nor inflation.

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Conclusion

We’re likely to see a number of questions rehearsed in the coming general election and a subsequent Budget.

At the last election the Conservatives planned to end universal infant free school meals (UIFSM), with free breakfasts for all primary school pupils offered instead. That plan was dropped in the face of strong opposition – so does that make it unlikely that any of the main parties will aim to tinker with UIFSM provision this time around?

There has also been a suggestion from our own Becky Allen, writing in a personal capacity, that the Pupil Premium be rolled into general school funding, with disadvantage levels still appropriately reflected in how this funding is distributed. Will something like this be pitched by any of the candidates to become prime minister?

As with the last election, we’re also likely to see divergence between the main parties in what is offered on early years education – but what exactly will they offer?

Hopefully we’ll have a clear picture soon.

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