Fact check: Is this really the ‘biggest funding injection ever’?

We examine the education secretary's claims about last year's autumn statement announcement

We examine the education secretary's claims about last year's autumn statement announcement

A magnifying glass over money

The education secretary has been accused of a “sleight of hand” after claiming the government is making the “biggest injection of funding ever” into schools, when actual growth will be lower than in the 2000s.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced last week that school budgets will increase by £2.3 billion in each of the next two years, though £300 million is not new funding.

In an email to schools this week, Gillian Keegan said the funding was “over and above what has been previously committed both next year and the year after and is the biggest injection of funding ever”.

Asked what figure Keegan was referring to in her blog post, the Department for Education (DfE) pointed Schools Week towards the planned £9 billion cash-terms increase in core schools funding between 2021-22 and 2024-25.

And while that increase is likely to be the largest in cash terms over a three-year period, this is not much of a surprise, given pupil numbers are the highest they’ve been since the 1970s, and inflation is currently at a 40-year high.

Claim doesn’t factor in prices and pupil numbers

Luke Sibieta, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), warned that when making historical comparisons “it is crucial to account for increases in prices and changes in pupil numbers”.

“When we do, we see that spending per pupil is due to increase by 9 per cent after inflation between 2021-22 and 2024-25, or about 3 per cent per year.

“That’s clearly a change of pace compared with recent cuts and it will help schools facing big cost rises. However, this is slower than the increases during the 2000s, when spending per pupil was increasing by about 5 to 6 per cent per year after inflation.”

Analysis by the IFS (see graph) shows why relying on cash-terms figures alone does not adequately show the impact funding decisions have on schools.

While school funding in 2024-25 will be 41.7 per cent higher than it was in 2010 in cash terms, it will only be 2.6 per cent higher in real terms.

Philip Nye, a data scientist at the Institute for Government, said the additional cash “will undoubtedly help schools deal with the cost pressures they’re facing”.

“But it probably isn’t going to provide enough headroom for pay awards big enough to mean that teacher and support staff salaries have kept pace with inflation between 2020 and 2025.”

Funding settlement won’t get schools ‘off the hook’

In her blog post, Keegan pointed to IFS analysis and said the funding settlement “would allow schools to return to at least 2010 levels in real terms – the highest spending year in history – and is what the sector said it needed”.

Unions had demanded ministers deliver their promise to return funding to 2010 levels. The IFS said the new cash will meet the promise.

Paul Whiteman, from the NAHT leaders’ union, said the money “will hopefully bring schools back from the cliff edge they have been teetering on”.

“That said, this doesn’t mean schools are completely off the hook. The truly dire cuts we have been warning about will hopefully no longer have to be made, but there are a myriad of pressures still facing schools that will need consideration very soon.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said claiming the funding announcement as the “biggest injection of funding ever” was “typical sleight of hand from a government that has been reluctant to address the real problems facing schools”.

“It will take much more to restore schools and colleges to a point where efficiency savings can be avoided and they can grow in terms of staffing, resources and building renewal.”

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