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Education spending

Education plays a vital role is determining the productivity and living standards for future generations, as well as providing a mechanism for social mobility and equality of opportunity. As a result, how much public money is spent on education and how this money is allocated across the different stages of education is a question of crucial policy relevance and a hotly contested area of political debate. Currently, education spending is the second-largest area of public service spending in the UK, representing about 4.5% of national income in 2015–16 (slightly above the OECD average). The level of real terms spending on education has increased considerably over the last 30 years; however, due to budget cuts and large-scale reforms to the system, there are resource pressures across all areas of education in England.

In our research in this area, we set out the long-run trends of government spending on education, describe how this money is spent across different stages of education and analyze the impacts of these policies on the students who pass through the education system. We also explore the progressivity of the education system, describing how funding is distributed across students from different backgrounds.

Selected highlights

IFS Working Paper W15/10
School funding per pupil increased substantially between 1999-00 and 2012-13 in England. In this paper, we decompose these increases in funding per pupil into the amount explained by quantities of different types of staff per pupil, their price and changes in non-staffing costs.
External publication
This report analyses the impact of abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in 2011. We show that this reduced Year 12 participation by around 1.5 percentage points.
In this report, we present long-run series of spending per student in England across the four main stages of education (early years, schools, further education and sixth forms, and higher education).


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Luke Sibieta
Research Fellow
Christine Farquharson
Senior Research Economist
( 100 results found )
Briefing note
In this briefing note, we assess the key policy announcements made in the White Paper around the funding of post-18 education. The White Paper itself is broad in scope and includes discussions of many potential areas of reform.
In our annual series of reports on education spending, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, we bring together data on education spending per student across the life cycle and provide analysis about the major issues facing different sectors.
Education spending is the second-largest element of public service spending in the UK behind health, representing about £91 billion in 2018–19 in today’s prices or about 4.2% of national income.
Book chapter
School spending covers pupils in state-funded schools aged 5–16, as well as pupils aged 16–18 in school sixth forms. In 2018–19, total school spending in England – excluding early years and sixth-form funding – stood at about £44 billion in 2019–20 prices.
Almost all the candidates in the Conservative leadership election have promised higher levels of spending on education. With a Spending Review of some form due this year, we analyse the cost of potential commitments on schools and education spending.
Briefing note
Chris Belfield, David Goll and Luke Sibieta
Pupils benefit from a large amount of state funding for education in the 12+ years they spend in formal education, about £73,000 on average for pupils aged 16 in Summer 2010 in England. The total amount they experience is shaped by their education choices (e.g. whether to stay on post 16 and/or go ...
Chris Belfield, Christine Farquharson and Luke Sibieta
Our first annual report on education spending in England provides measures of spending per student in the early years, schools, further education and higher education back to the early 1990s.
IFS Working Paper W18/16
Brant Abbott, Giovanni Gallipoli, Costas Meghir and Giovanni L. Violante
This paper examines the equilibrium effects of alternative financial aid policies intended to promote college participation. We build an overlapping generations life cycle model with education, labor supply, and consumption/saving decisions.
Chris Belfield, Christine Farquharson and Luke Sibieta
This note was submitted as evidence to the Education Committee Inquiry on School and College Funding.
In this observation IFS researchers analyse how much it would really cost to write-off student debt.