High spending on Scottish schools 'does not translate' into good educational performance, says report

More is spent on school pupils per head in Scotland than any other UK nation – but the higher spend does “not automatically translate” into better educational outcomes, a report has warned.

Core school spending per pupil is expected to be highest in Scotland – at more than £7,500 – in the current academic year, according to a study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

In England, the per capita spend is just £6,700 and even lower in Wales and Northern Ireland, where spending is £6,600 and £6,400 respectively.

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However, experts said Scotland’s higher spend does “not automatically translate” into better education, pointing to declining numeracy and science scores compared to the OECD average in recent years.

Scottish school pupils have more spent per head than elsewhere in the UK.

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The report said spending per pupil fell by 7 per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2014/15, in line with a decline in school spending across the UK. However, in contrast to other nations, there has since been a big recovery in spending per pupil.

Luke Sibieta, IFS research fellow and author, said: "Over the last decade, there were cuts to school spending per pupil right across the UK.

"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.

"However, it is important to remember higher spending need not automatically translate into better educational outcomes. 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.”

The OECD’s Pisa report, which measures the performance of 600,000 15-year-olds worldwide, found in 2019 that Scotland's performance in reading improved, but it declined in maths and science.

The organisation recently published a wide ranging investigation into Scotland’s education system, where it warned that reform was needed of Scotland’s assessment model, saying the existing system was too exams-focused.

The spending recovery in Scotland was partially driven by the large increases in teacher pay north of the border in 2018 and 2019, as well as extra Covid spending of more than £200 million on mitigation measures for education and recovery.

Yet the study said even after making “plausible adjustments”, core spending per pupil in Scotland in 2021/22 was still likely to be over 6 per cent higher than in 2009/10 and more than £800 higher than in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report said school spending across Scotland would also have been potentially boosted as a result of extra funding through the Barnett formula to reflect the grant to schools in England for the cost of higher employer contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the report, said: ‘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.

"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.”

In response to the report, the Scottish Government is to scrap the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and overhaul Education Scotland.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, said no UK nations could be considered a “high spending jurisdiction”.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “Headline statistics around education spending can be misleading. For example, if teacher pay is higher in Scotland that creates a stronger headline figure, but the real metrics to be looked at are teacher numbers, class sizes, pupil teacher ratios and so on.

"In terms of percentage of GDP devoted to education, unfortunately none of the UK nations is a high spending jurisdiction.

"The Scottish investment figure identified in this report, however, includes welcome additional money from the Scottish Government targeted at mitigating against the impact of poverty on young people’s education, an issue that has been exacerbated by a decade of austerity.

"The report also highlights that additional Covid-related spending is included in the Scottish figures, but is not included in the figures for the rest of the UK. These factors, combined with Scotland’s geography and high number of smaller and remote schools, will account for the slightly higher per pupil spend in Scotland.”

Scottish Conservatives education spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “This report makes it clear that the SNP are not delivering value for money when it comes to spending on our schools. The increase in pupil spending is simply not translating into better performance among our young people.

“Under the SNP test scores in numeracy and science are declining compared to the rest of the UK and the attainment gap is ever widening."

Mr Mundell added: “The SNP have slashed the number of teachers from our classrooms and have failed to accept the fundamental flaws in their weak and knowledge-light curriculum. Those are key factors that have led to Scotland’s once world-leading education system now failing on the SNP’s watch.”

SNP MSP and registered teacher Kaukab Stewart said: “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. This investment is paying off.”

She added: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap remains one of the SNP Government’s defining missions. That’s why, over the course of this Parliament, we will invest a further £1 billion, with a refreshed Scottish Attainment Challenge.”

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