Last week UK Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove championed the release of data showing how spending extra on schools doesn’t necessarily lead to better education outcomes.

As a Department of Education paper Improving Efficiency in Schools states, there is:

… a large variation in expenditure between the schools; ranging from just over £4,000 per pupil to over £5,000. That’s more than a £1 million difference in spending for a school with 1,000 pupils. And there are significant savings to be made, even if a school moderately reduced its expenditure. If the higher spending school illustrated in the graph (at position 90) came down to the level of the lower spending school (at position 70), they’d save £331 per pupil, or £289,294 overall (they had 874 pupils last year). 

Click to enlarge

If we look at these schools’ attainment, it is clear there is no direct link between higher spending and higher attainment. The following graph shows the same 100 schools, but also plots their exam performance (shown by the blue dots). If there was a direct link between the amount the schools spent per pupil and their performance, you would expect the blue dots to form a line following the red dots, but in fact there is no such pattern.


This research confirms the results of other studies and suggests the education debate should be refocused on making the system more efficient (eg through introducing greater parental choice and competition between schools, as Gove is promoting in the United kingdom), not on how much is spent.



  1. I have stated the following point online in some blogs this observation.

    The curriculum content from say, 30 or 40 years ago in our eduction system is almost the same as today. Well, there is a little bit more to the curriculum depth/content but basically the difference is not that big between what they taught back then and today.

    Back then, the computing technology wasn’t available in classrooms. Today it is everywhere, from computer softwares & calculators that can plot & do/solve calculus/algebra on the fly to internet that’s littered with information that students can just get access to with the press of a computer button/key. Both Computing technology plus education research knowledge have grown exponentially.

    The question to ask is if the knowledge or achievements of students at our school system reflect this exponential growth of modern education research knowledge & computing technology? The answer is a big NO. Of course there is improvements in the achievements of students compared to 30 or 40 years ago, but the gap is minute, ie, almost unnoticeable to be called improvements.

    I’m waiting for an education expert to explain to why is education research knowledge & computing technology have exploded in the same period (30 to 40 years), while students’ achievements in today remains static (ie, almost the same as the results of 30 or 40 years ago).

    Are we spending too much in our education system on wrong or inefficient aims/goals based on wrong advises from education experts? I suspect that this is the case.

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