Children’s Commissioner report reveals issues in education spending

A new analysis of government spending on children has revealed some concerning trends regarding where the money actually does and does not go

The Children’s Commissioner has released a new report – produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – which tracks 20 years’ worth of public spending on children.

The results show that not only is almost half of the £8.6bn children’s services budget in England now spent on just 73,000 children in the care system – leaving the other half to cover 11.7 million further children – but that while education spending for 4-16 year-olds has generally been sustained, sixth form and further education spending will sink to the same level as 30 years ago by 2020.

For the first time, this report – entitled Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020 – looks across the government at what is spend on which children, rather than focussing on particular departmental budgets.

Levels of government spending have broadly been maintained over the past two decades, but the analysis reveals some worrying trends. Altogether, 72% of children’s services budgets go towards helping families in severe need, but the budget for children with less severe needs has not been altered to reflect this.

Overall education spending increased considerably during the 2000s and has generally been protected since 2010, but beneath this lies insidious cuts of around 17% to funding for 16-18 education between 2009-10 and 2019-20. Sixth form and higher education spending per student will actually be at the same level in 2019-20 as it was in 1989-90.

Spending per child is 42% higher in real terms than it was in 2000–01, but 10% below its high point of £11,300 in 2010–11

The report also shows that there are increasing pressures on specialist education budgets as the number of children attending special schools increased by 25% between 2007 and 2017. This has been largely driven by a rise in the number of children with autism attending these schools.

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said of the results:

“This report confirms what NAHT has been saying for some time and the government really needs to own up to the fact that per pupil funding is falling in real terms. School and college funding is the issue that just won’t go away. There are too many parents, teachers, governors and school leaders pushing for more money for their children for the government to ignore these calls any longer.

“Schools and colleges are now using their own impossibly tight budgets to make up for cuts to children’s health and social care services and most young people are losing out in some way or another. As the report says, we are attempting to manage and contain crises in children’s lives after allowing them to escalate. This is a poor use of public money at a time when demand is rising, and investment has clearly stalled.

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“We have to prioritise investment in early years education and early support for children and families before they reach crisis point. Otherwise the most disadvantaged children will pay the highest price, with uncertain chances of ever catching up.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, responded to the findings.

“This analysis shows that while overall public spending on children has been broadly maintained over the last twenty years, millions of vulnerable children who are not entitled to statutory support will be missing out because of the huge cost of helping a small number of children who are in crisis.

“While every child should receive the support they need, the economic and social costs of this current strategy are unsustainable. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support will last a lifetime. Every day we are seeing the consequences of helping children too late – in pressures on the family courts system, special schools and the care system and in the spiralling numbers of school exclusions and the consequent increase in younger and younger children linked to violent street gangs.

“I hope this analysis will help to move the debate on from one simply about the amount we spend on children, to a debate about how we spend it. Next year’s Spending Review offers an opportunity to step in and support these children falling through the gaps, avoiding government silos and designing cross-departmental services built around a clear identification of the unmet needs of kids. Spending allocations should be seen through the prism of the child, not the prism of which bit of Whitehall thinks it can spend it best.

“If we can get this right, we will be acting in the best interests not only of vulnerable children, but of all children and the country.”

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