Does Northern Ireland spend least per pupil?

CLAIM: Northern Ireland spends less on each school pupil’s education than any other part of the UK.

CONCLUSION: ACCURATE. Spending on schools per head of population in Northern Ireland is similar to England, Scotland, and Wales. However, Northern Ireland’s comparatively large school age population means that spending per pupil is lower than elsewhere in the UK.

On 22 October 2021, the BBC reported on a research publication by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and claimed that “Northern Ireland spends less on each school pupil’s education than any other part of the UK”. The news article reported that about £6,400 would be spent per pupil in Northern Ireland in 2021–22, compared with £7,600 in Scotland, according to IFS figures.

A similar claim was fact checked by FactCheckNI in 2018: “Do our primary pupils receive least per child?” It concluded the claim was “accurate with consideration”: public expenditure on pre-primary and primary education in Northern Ireland at that time was least per child, while Northern Ireland had the second highest level of expenditure on overall education per head of population.

This fact check analyses updated information published by HM Treasury.

The following table summarises the total identifiable spend (figures are in £) on education per head of population, by category, for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (taken from tables 10.8, 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7 in the Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2021 data produced by HM Treasury for the fiscal year 2019/20).

Northern Ireland

England

Scotland

Wales

9.1 Pre-primary and primary education

468

427

717

530

of which: under fives

33

59

141

13

of which: primary education

435

367

575

517

9.2 Secondary education

604

709

571

639

9.3 Post-secondary non-tertiary education

10

9.4 Tertiary education

167

40

274

91

9.5 Education not definable by level

40

11

25

38

9.6 Subsidiary services to education

151

54

49

39

9.7 R&D education

0

41

0

9.8 Education n.e.c.

98

26

50

45

Total education spend per head of population 2019/20 (£)

1,528

1,319

1,685

1,382

This data shows that total education spend per head in Northern Ireland (£1,528) was higher  than England and Wales, but lower than Scotland. Northern Ireland had a much higher spending per head on “subsidiary services to education” and “education not elsewhere classified (n.e.c.)”, which could include spending that directly supports schools such as school transport, pupil support and special education.

However, Northern Ireland has a comparatively large school age population.

Using the total education spend figures from the same report (tables 10.4, 10.1, 10.2, and 10.3) and figures for pupil numbers from the national and devolved education departments, allows the spend per pupil to be calculated.

Northern Ireland

England

Scotland

Wales

9.1 Pre-primary and primary education (£m)

886

24,026

3,916

1,670

9.2 Secondary education (£m)

1,144

39,922

3,120

2,015

Total education spend 2019/20 (£m)

2,030

63,948

7,036

3,685

Number of pupils 2019/20

341,456

8,890,357

702,197

469,176

Total school spend per pupil 2019/20 (£)

5,945

7,193

10,020

7,854

Population (mid year 2019)

1,893,700

56,287,000

5,463,300

3,152,900

School pupils as % of the population

18.0%

15.8%

12.9%

14.9%

As a percentage of the overall population, the school population of Northern Ireland is 40% larger than Scotland, which is reflected in Northern Ireland’s lower spending on a per pupil basis.

Even if all of the “education n.e.c.” and “subsidiary services to education” spend was classified as school spending, spending on a per-pupil basis would still be lower in Northern Ireland compared with Great Britain.