Scotland spends more on pupil education than any other UK nation
Scotland spends more on education than any other devolved UK nation, with its core per-pupil figure expected to be over £800 higher than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the current academic year.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), an independent think tank, found that while spending per pupil in Scotland fell by 7 per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2014/15, it has recovered strongly in the years since and is expected to be 6 per cent higher than in 2009/10 this year. This is in part due to teacher pay increases that took effect in 2018 and 2019 as well as £200m of Covid mitigation funding being allocated last year.
Though Covid spending was not included in the other nations’ figures, the IFS said that “even after making plausible adjustments” core spending in Scotland is expected to come in at over £7,500. That compares with £6,700 in England, £6,600 in Wales and £6,400 in Northern Ireland.
“Over the last decade, there were cuts to school spending per pupil right across the UK,” said IFS research fellow Luke Sibieta.
“In Scotland, large recent increases mean that spending has more than recovered and core spending per pupil is now likely to be over £800 higher than in the rest of the UK.
“Despite recent increases, spending per pupil in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is still close to or just below levels seen a decade earlier.”
SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart said the research shows that “you can trust the SNP in government to continue to provide the best-funded education system in the UK and ensure that every child has the best start in life”.
“These figures demonstrate the commitment the SNP Scottish Government continues to make to Scotland’s pupils and ensuring that each and every one of them has the opportunity to excel in their education,” she said.
However, Sibieta noted that in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) last Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) report Scottish pupils did not perform well in maths or science.
The Pisa report, which is published every three years, tests 15-year-old students from all over the world in reading, maths and science to gauge how well they have mastered the subjects. In the 2019 Pisa report, Scotland achieved its lowest scores in maths and science since it first took part in the survey almost 20 years previously.
“It is important to remember higher spending need not automatically translate into better educational outcomes,” Sibieta said.
“Indeed, international comparisons of test scores suggest numeracy and science scores were declining in high-spending Scotland relative to the OECD average up to 2018.
“It remains to be seen whether extra spending in Scotland since 2018 will arrest this trend.”
Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the IFS research, added that despite Scotland being ahead of the other UK nations on spending, all four countries are lagging behind comparable nations when it comes to Covid recovery spending on education.
“This IFS analysis shows that the increasing divergence in education policy between the four nations of the UK extends to school spending per pupil, where funding to support Scottish pupils has held up better than for their counterparts in the other nations,” he said.
“A major cause for concern is that funding for education recovery programmes in response to the pandemic is much lower across all four nations than those being implemented in comparable countries.”