The gap between private school fees and state school spending per pupil has more than doubled in England over the past decade, with private fees now more than 90% higher than spending on state schools, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed.
A decade ago, after adjusting for inflation, the gap was just over £3,000 per pupil. But it has since doubled as private school fees have risen sharply while government spending on the state sector in England has fallen in real terms.
The IFS study included running costs and capital spending for state schools, and subtracted scholarships and bursaries given to pupils in private schools to fairly compare the two. The average private school fee (not including boarding schools) was found to be £13,700 a year, compared with £7,100 in spending on each state school pupil.
“While day-to-day state school spending per student has fallen by 9% in real-terms over the last decade, private school fees have gone up by 20%. At the same time, numbers of pupils in private schools have remained pretty much constant,” said Luke Sibieta, an IFS research fellow and author of the report.
“Longstanding concerns about inequalities between private and state school pupils, which have come into sharp focus during the pandemic, will not begin to be easily addressed while the sectors enjoy such different levels of resourcing.”
The report comes two weeks after the Labour party leadership pledged to strip independent schools of their charitable status and other tax privileges, with the extra revenue used to fund more teachers and career support in the state sector.
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “[State] school budgets have been hammered over the last decade, which is holding children back. As state school class sizes have soared and enriching activities – art, sport, music, drama – have been cut back, the gap with private schools has grown ever wider.
“Labour’s recovery plan would extend the school day for new activities for all, and by ending private schools’ tax exemptions we would invest in state schools with 6,500 new teachers, and careers advice and work experience so every child gets an excellent education that sets them up for life.”
The IFS calculations used average private day school fees of members of the Independent Schools Council, and reduced the total by the scholarships and bursaries given to approximately one in four private school pupils. The figures excluded non-association independent schools – which includes many special needs or faith-based schools – and boarding school fees, as well as endowments and donations that would substantially boost spending.
The IFS found that while state school spending had fallen in real terms over the past decade, private school fees had rises by 20%, from £11,000 to £13,700, although during the pandemic in 2020-21, private school fees dropped for the first time in more than 20 years.
The gap in spending is particularly acute in sixth forms, where state spending per pupil has plummeted in recent years. The IFS found that average fees for sixth formers in the private sector was more than £15,000 in 2019-20, more than three times higher than day-to-day state funding per pupil.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the shocking fact in the report was that per-pupil spending in real termswas lower now than it had been a decade ago in state schools. Adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil had fallen from £8,000 in 2010-11 to £6,900 in 2019-20.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the government was increasing school funding in England so that it would be £7bn higher in 2022-23 compared with 2019-20.