The government has been accused to attempting to cover up school budget cuts in England, after the UK’s statistics watchdog stated that it will investigate ministers’ usage of spending figures that included private school fees to fend off criticism.
The UK Statistics Authority stated that it had received complaints about a recent claim, which was made by Nick Gibb, the Department for Education and the schools standards minister—that the UK’s spending on education was the third highest in the world.
The claim, based on OECD figures, was revealed by the BBC to include both university student tuition loans and the fees paid by private school pupils—which fall outside the DfE’s budget. The department also faces scrutiny over its continued use of a claim that there are 1.9 million more children in schools rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding than at 2010.
A spokesperson for the regulator said: “The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for Statistics Regulation are investigating the concerns raised, and will publish their findings shortly.”
More than 2,000 headteachers had protested over funding cuts in England. In response, the DfE defended its record and stated: “The OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world, spending more per pupil than countries including Germany, Australia and Japan.”
Gibb repeated the same claim during an interview on the BBC, and the DfE published the statement in a blog on its website.
The OECD data was comparing education spending as a percentage of national output, and included government spending in England and elsewhere along with university tuition loans for students as well as fees paid by pupils at private schools. The figures also include government spending on education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—which in most cases is devolved to national assemblies in those countries.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that funding per pupil in England fell by 8% between 2010 and 2018, with 66,000 more children in state schools this year than the year before but with 5,000 fewer teachers.
In response, a DfE spokesperson said: “The most informative OECD statistic on school funding is that in 2015 among G7 nations, the UK government spent the highest percentage of GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.
“This is one of several statistics in the OECD report that demonstrate the UK is among the highest spenders on education at primary and secondary level, whether you look at spend as a share of GDP, spend as a share of government spending or spend per pupil.” The spokesperson added.
The spokesperson concluded by saying: “Other independently verified statistics show the government is investing in schools – the IFS found that real terms per pupil funding in 2020 will be over 50% higher than it was in 2000.”
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said Labour had also complained to the statistics authority about the figures.
“The Tories have been caught red-handed trying to get away with yet more discredited statistics in a desperate attempt to bury the consequences of their own cuts,” Rayner stated.
“It is time that the government stopped making up their figures and started facing up to the facts.” Rayner further added.
Rayner concluded by saying: “The prime minister promised that austerity was over, but if she means a word of it then the chancellor must undo the years of damage the Tories have caused to our school system and tackle the education funding crisis in this month’s budget.”
The statistics regulator is also investigating a figure which is regularly quoted by the DfE and ministers claiming that 1.9 million more state school pupils now attend good or outstanding schools than in 2010.
According to experts, this figure is accurate but fails to take into account the rising number of state school pupils over the last eight years.