IFS: Parties’ spending plans leave sixth forms with 10% less than schools

Labour’s manifesto plans will boost spending on 16 to 18 education by 8 per cent in real terms, but all three parties’ proposals will leave spending on sixth forms around 10 per cent lower than secondary schools, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The think tank says that although the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats are all proposing to spend more on 16 to 18 education over the course of the next parliament, only Labour’s spending plans will result in a real-terms increase.

The other two parties’ plans would only do enough to keep per-pupil spending for 16 to 18-year-olds constant in real terms.

The IFS also says that although the Labour and Conservative proposals for sixth form funding “would represent larger increases” than their commitments on schools spending, “all would leave spending per 16 to 18 year-old pupil around 10 per cent lower than the parties’ respective proposals for secondary schools”.

Spending per student in 16-18 education would remain about 10% lower than it would be for secondary schools.

According to the IFS, spending on 16 to 18-year-olds has “fared substantially worse” than other areas of education funding. Spending per 16 to 18-year-old pupil in 1990-91 was more than 50 per cent higher than spending per secondary school pupil, but by 2017–18 it was 13 per cent lower.

This decline was the result of deeper cuts in the 1990s, slower growth in the 2000s, and being one of the only areas of education spending to be cut under the coalition government, the IFS says. Further real-terms cuts planned in the 2015 spending review would have reduced spending to £5,200 per pupil by 2020, returning it to its 2002 level, the think tank stated.

The Conservatives set out plans in the spring budget this year to spend an additional £420 million on new technical qualifications, and have re-affirmed that commitment in their manifesto.

The IFS says this investment would have a similar effect to the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to protect per-pupil funding of schools and colleges in real terms. However, the think tank says both parties’ plans would “still leave spending per pupil on 16 to 18-year-olds in 2021-22 around 14 per cent below its peak in 2011-12”.

In the case of the Conservatives, because plans for 16 to 18 education are “slightly more generous” than those for schools, the gap between 16 to 18 education and secondary school spending per student “would shrink slightly” from its current level of 13 per cent to around 10 per cent in 2021–22.

Labour wants to bring the basic amount provided for 16 to 18-year-olds in line with the funding for 11 to 16-year-olds, and its manifesto includes around £390 million by 2021-22 to achieve this.

If implemented, Labour’s proposals would increase 16 to 18 spending per pupil to £5,800, equivalent to 8 per cent over the parliament, but this would still leave sixth form spending “about 11 per cent below” the £6,500 per pupil amount the party would give to secondary schools.

The IFS report follows a deeper analysis of all the parties education spending plans published last month.

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