ICAEW chart of the week: Schools budget up £14bn, or is it £1.2bn?

English schools budget 2020-21 +£2.6bn, 2021-22 +£4.8bn, 2022-23 +£7.1bn

The Prime Minister’s announcement of a ‘£14bn package’ of more money was welcome news for English schools as they prepare to re-open their doors after the summer holidays.

Unfortunately, as is common with government announcements, there is a tendency to add several years together to give a bigger headline, exacerbated this time by the inclusion of inflation to make the headline even bigger! 

In reality the announcement is a lot less exciting, as illustrated by the #ICAEWchartoftheweek. The announced increase in the 5-16 schools’ budget in three years’ time of £7.1bn (from £45.1bn in 2019-20 to £52.2bn in 2022-23) turns out to be £3.6bn, or an average of £1.2bn a year after taking account of inflation and the expected growth in the number of school pupils of around 2% over that time.

This is still very good news for schools trying to manage within constrained budgets, but (as the IFS and others have reported) the increase will still be insufficient to restore real-terms per pupil funding to the levels seen before the financial crisis. A 12% increase in pupil numbers since 2009-10 has seen budgets squeezed as funding has been constrained to inflation-only increases for most of the last decade.

Ironically, the Chancellor wasn’t able to take advantage of the same trick in his announcement the following day of £400m for further education and sixth forms, despite the fact that this was proportionately a bigger increase. The announcement was only for one year, so he couldn’t add multiple years together to create a bigger headline, and HM Treasury no doubt held the line about not adding in inflation.

Either way, these announcements are indication of how the fiscal approach is changing after a decade of austerity and struggling public services. This week’s Spending Review will give us a few more clues about the direction of public spending, although if (as rumoured) the Budget is postponed then we may not find out what the plans for taxes and borrowing to fund these increases until the Spring.