UKSA praises DfE's new school funding stats - but says more context is needed

The statistics watchdog has praised the Department for Education for improving its school funding statistics, but says more context is still needed.

The UK Statistics Authority said the government’s new approach, introduced earlier this year following criticism of ministers’ presentation of school funding figures, addresses “a gap in the provision of official statistics on schools”.

However, the body has called on the government to provide “fuller presentation of the context surrounding schools funding” in future reports. 

In January, the DfE published new statistics which revealed the extent of real-terms cuts to schools budgets over the past decade.

The data revealed that average per-pupil funding for schools was 1.9 per cent lower in real terms 2019-20 than it was in 2010.

The DfE adopted its more transparent approach after it was ordered to do so by the UKSA. The watchdog has had to warn ministers several times about their use of statistics on school funding.

In a letter sent to the DfE today, Ed Humpherson, the UKSA’s director general for regulation, commended the DfE for the new statistics.

Before they were published, there had been “no single consistent and comprehensive set of official statistics on school funding”, and this made it “difficult to form an authoritative view of school funding”.

“To inform public debate on public services expenditure such as school funding, there is a vital need for good quality and clearly explained statistics”, Humpherson added. 

The authority judged the data on its “trustworthiness, quality and value”, ultimately finding the statistics made it easier for users to navigate and understand – especially through presenting data in “both cash and real terms”.

However, the UKSA also said that there are “aspects that could be improved”, and has called for “better signposting throughout” including links to related DfE publications and a table with the main body of the text.

This would help readers understand the context into which the statistics are appearing, the body said.

The DfE welcomed the feedback from the UKSA.

“As this letter makes clear, publishing clear, transparent data around important subjects like school funding is vital in supporting informed debate,” a spokesperson said.

“We are pleased that the UK Statistics Authority has recognised that our new statistics play an important role in this and are helping the public understand how schools are funded.”