Department for Education caught adding tuition fees to school funding claims
From BBC News: If you’re a student paying tuition fees, you might be surprised to find that the cost of going to university is being included as “spending” in the government’s defence of its record on school funding.
But when ministers faced accusations of under-funding schools in England, a figure they quoted widely as evidence of high spending has been found to include billions of pounds of university fees being paid by students, rather than only government spending.
School leaders have described this discovery as “shocking and disturbing”.
Last week, more than a thousand head teachers marched on Downing Street, protesting about school funding shortages.
The Department for Education rejected their claims, saying not only were record amounts going into schools but the “OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world”.
The claim for world-beating spending was used repeatedly by the DfE, it was published on the department’s website and the Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, used the same argument on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, in a debate over school budgets.
“We are spending record amounts on our school funding. We are the third highest spender on education in the OECD,” said Mr Gibb.
It sounds impressive. But the third-place ranking from the OECD, an international economics organisation, is not just a schools figure or even about government spending.
It shows the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced, spent on all educational institutions, including universities as well as schools – and it’s for 2015 and not 2018.
What really might be unexpected is that it includes personal spending – and that means that all the billions paid by students on their tuition fees are part of this total.
Of course, the DfE’s claim that the UK is the “third highest spender on education in the world” is not incorrect.
It does not anywhere explicitly say it is about the government funding of schools that was under discussion.
But would parents listening to arguments about school spending really expect this?
The DfE accepts that the third-highest spending claim includes tuition fees but says the statement remains “accurate”.