Claim of being ‘third biggest’ education spender included tuition fees and private spending
‘The OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world,’ said the Department for Education (DfE) in a pre-emptive strike before headteachers gathered to highlight inadequate school funding.
The claim was widely repeated in the media and in comments by Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb. But the ‘third highest’ claim was misleading, BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan reports.
When all this backdated spending is used to rank countries according to how much is spent on education as a proportion of GDP, then the UK (not just England) is indeed ranked third. But it’s misleading for the DfE, and Gibb in particular, to use data about overall funding to imply state funding of education in England is the third highest in the world.
Including private spending boosts UK’s ranking
The latest OECD* data (2015) ranks the UK 6th out of 35 OECD countries for the amount of private spending on education. Among EU countries, the UK spends more privately on education than any of the other 27. Including any private spending on education would boost the UK ranking - especially so if the private spending is well-above the OECD average.
UK falls to 12th place for public spending on primary and secondary education
Far from being 3rd in global rankings, the UK falls to 12th place for public spending on primary and secondary education. Among the 35 OECD countries, the UK ranks 8th. That’s in the top ten but it’s not as high as the figure the DfE boasted about.
Figures for the UK can’t be said to apply to England alone
Using UK figures to support claims about funding in England is unreliable. Education is a devolved issue: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland decide how much public money is allocated to education in their countries.
England’s per head public spending on education lowest in UK
HM Treasury figures, which I’ll discuss in my next article, show public funding of education per head is lower in England than in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. This suggests the global ranking for England based on how much public money as a percentage of GDP is spent on primary and secondary education would be lower than 12th position if these three countries were omitted.
*OECD charts for public and private spending can be downloaded here