“The government has been accused of attempting to cover up school budget cuts in England, after the UK’s statistics watchdog said it would investigate ministers’ use of spending figures that included private school fees to fend off criticism.
The UK Statistics Authority said it had received complaints about a recent claim, made by the Department for Education and the schools standards minister, Nick Gibb, that the UK’s spending on education was the third highest in the world.
But the claim, based on OECD figures, was revealed by the BBC to include university student tuition loans as well as the fees paid by private school pupils, which fall outside the DfE’s budget.
The department also faces scrutiny over its continued use of a claim that there are 1.9 million more children in schools rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding than at the time of the 2010 election.
“The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for Statistics Regulation are investigating the concerns raised, and will publish their findings shortly,” a spokesperson for the regulator said.
Last Friday saw a protest by more than 2,000 headteachers over school funding cuts in England. In response, the DfE defended its record, and included the statement: “The OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world, spending more per pupil than countries including Germany, Australia and Japan.”
Gibb later repeated the same claim during an interview on the BBC, and the DfE published the statement in a blog on its website.
But the OECD data was comparing education spending as a percentage of national output, and included government spending in England and elsewhere along with university tuition loans for students as well as fees paid by pupils at private schools.
The OECD figures also include government spending on education in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which in most cases is devolved to national assemblies in those countries and is not counted within the DfE’s budget.
Jules White, the headteacher of a secondary school in West Sussex who helped organise last Friday’s protest, said the DfE was attempting to cover up the “savage cuts that have been made to school budgets” .
“At every stage, the government and Department for Education has refused to acknowledge an overwhelming independent body of evidence which clearly confirms that the cuts have gone too far,” White said.
“Ministers have now been caught out and we appeal to them to stop the pattern of using dreadfully misleading information which is unfair to educational professionals and most crucially to parents and pupils.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that funding per pupil in England fell by 8% between 2010 and 2018, with 66,000 more children in state schools this year than the year before but with 5,000 fewer teachers. …”