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by Margaret Taylor
21 April 2023
Large uptick in Scottish spending per pupil not reflected in educational outcomes

Large uptick in Scottish spending per pupil not reflected in educational outcomes

Scotland “continues to disappoint” on educational outcomes despite spending 18 per cent more per pupil on education than the rest of the UK.

According to a report from economics research body the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), spending per pupil in Scotland was over £8,500 in 2022-23 – £1,300 higher than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is a significant change from 2010, when Scotland spent just six per cent more per pupil than the rest of the UK.

The IFS said the figures can in part be put down to relatively low growth in pupil numbers in Scotland – two per cent since 2009-10 – against rapid increases in England and Northern Ireland, and that they also reflect higher teacher pay offers made in Scotland.

Research fellow Luke Sibieta, who wrote the report, said that as the gap has only recently widened significantly it would be too soon to expect that to be reflected in attainment, but that Scotland has lagged on educational outcomes for the past ten years.  

 “School spending per pupil in Scotland is now over 18 per cent higher than in the rest of the UK. This big gap mostly reflects less pressure from pupil numbers and relatively recent spending rises,” he said.

“It would be too soon to expect much of an effect on educational outcomes. However, spending per pupil in Scotland has been higher than in the rest of the UK for a long period and educational outcomes have continued to disappoint over the last decade.”

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made closing the educational attainment gap one of her key priorities in office. However, it had widened significantly by the time she stood down earlier this year, with Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) figures published last year showing that the attainment gap between the most and least deprived areas of Scotland was 15 percentage points in 2022, up from 7.8 percentage points in 2021. Despite the increase, the gap had narrowed slightly from 2019, when it was 16.9 percentage points.

Earlier this week Humza Yousaf,  Sturgeon’s replacement as first minister, pledged that Scotland would rejoin the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) more than 13 years after the Scottish government quit them in a row over costs.

At the time Scotland had not been performing well in the league tables, with the 2006 Pirls report showing Scotland had gone from 14th place in literacy and reading to 21st out of 40 countries while the 2007 Timms report ranked Scotland 20th of 36 countries in maths performance at primary five level and 22nd in science.

Since withdrawing from the reports it has been difficult to benchmark Scottish educational outcomes.

In today’s The Scotsman newspaper, education secretary Jenny Gilruth rejects suggestions that Scottish education is in crisis and promises that the government is planning “radical” education reforms that include replacing education agency Education Scotland and abolishing the SQA.

Highlighting the “fantastic work” of young people supported by “hard-working teachers”, Gilruth told the newspaper that she fundamentally thought the “characterisation of education in Scotland being in crisis is not an accurate one”.

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Read the most recent article written by Margaret Taylor - Humza Yousaf joins with Welsh first minister to demand Westminster respects devolution.

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