Education spending 'falling fastest since 1950s'

Anti-cuts protest, London, 2011 Public spending cuts prompted protest marches earlier this year

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Public spending on education in the UK is falling at the fastest rate since the 1950s, says the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The independent financial researchers say spending will fall by 13% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

In England, the deepest cuts are in school buildings, higher education, 16-to-19 provision and early years.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The government had to take tough decisions to reduce the deficit."

He added: "But the schools' budget is actually increasing by £3.6bn in cash over the next four years."

Rise and fall

The IFS report says that after a decade of rapid growth in funding schools and universities, the UK is now facing the largest cut in education spending over any four-year period since at least the 1950s.

"Having risen by historically large amounts during the 2000s, the UK's education budget is now set for an historically large fall over the next few years," says senior research economist Luke Sibieta.

As a share of national income, the IFS is projecting that public spending on education will fall close to the level of the late-1990s - when it dipped to 4.5%. It had not previously been at such a low level since the early 1960s.

But these spending cuts will not be evenly spread, says the IFS, which has based its overall figures on UK-wide budgets and its sector breakdowns on figures from England.

School spending in England has emerged "relatively protected" from spending cuts, says the report. Although it says that the majority of schools will see real-term cuts, these will be offset in part by pupil premium payments for deprived children.

Among the areas with the deepest spending cuts will be capital funding on schools, which the IFS says will be more than halved. This follows the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future school rebuilding project.

Youth centre closures

The Department for Education defended its decision to axe the modernisation project.

"An independent review showed that taxpayers' money was being wasted on red tape and consultants, not on building schools," said a spokesman.

Higher education in England faces a 40% cut, as the government switches from public funding to private contribution, with the sharp increase in tuition fees.

The universities will be able to make up the loss with the extra fee revenue, but the IFS identifies this as one of the government's choices in its withdrawal of state funding.

The IFS warns that the biggest long-term losers could be early years support, youth services and 16-to-19 education in England. They will lose an estimated 20%, but unlike universities, the IFS suggests their cuts will not be offset by private funding.

A separate report from the Unite union has also highlighted concerns about the loss of youth services.

The union, which carried out a Freedom of Information search of councils in England and Wales, says that one in five youth centres are set to shut down next year.

The National Union of Teachers' leader, Christine Blower, said: "Despite the government's claims to have protected school funding, most schools will see real terms cuts.

"Sixth form colleges and school sixth forms will be hit by the particularly savage cuts of up to 20% to 16-19 education. Early years, youth services and capital funding also face severe cuts."

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