IFS - Historical skew towards the rich in education spending finally at an end

1 Nov 2018 09:04 AM

Children from richer families used to benefit much more from public spending on education than did those from poorer backgrounds.

Back in the 1980s, this gap was very big as few poorer children stayed in education past age 16, let alone went on to higher education. Even among those taking their GCSEs in 2003, those from the richest fifth of families were getting nearly £6,000 more spent on their education than were those from the poorest fifth.

That gap had closed for the generation taking GCSEs in 2010. Children from poorer backgrounds now have more spent on their education than do those from better-off families.

This remarkable shift in the distribution of education spending has been driven by increases in the amount of funding targeted at poorer pupils, as well as by a narrowing of socio-economic gaps in post-16 and higher education participation. Policies such as the pupil premium and further narrowing of socio-economic gaps in higher education participation mean that education spending is now likely to be skewed towards poorer pupils.

These are the main findings from new research released by IFS researchers today, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation. We follow pupils in state-funded schools in England who took their GCSEs between 2003 and 2010 through their education careers and measure the amount of spending they received based on the institutions they attended.

Our main findings are as follows:

Luke Sibieta, co-author of the report and Research Fellow at IFS, said: “In less than a decade over the 2000s, education spending shifted from being skewed towards richer pupils to being skewed towards poorer pupils instead. This is a remarkable shift in the shape of public spending, with an increasing amount of redistribution taking place through public service spending. In more recent years, these changes will have been partly counterbalanced by reductions in welfare spending and children’s services. Nevertheless, the empirical evidence suggests that focusing more education spending on poorer pupils should lead to substantial improvements in their life chances.”

Socio-economic differences in total education spending in England: middle-class welfare no more