Skip to main content

Is adult education spending in England the highest in history? (sadly not)

19th June 2019

At Prime Minister's Question (PMQs) today, the Prime Minister said that spending on adult education in 2020 will be "higher than any time in our country's history". The government has increased spending in some areas but we're doubtful about this claim. Here's why: budgets don't necessarily get spent. DfE doesn't publish much information on its budgets, nor does it explain in simple terms whether it has spent the money allocated. DfE hasn't published a skills funding letter for 18 months. The letter published in March 2017 sets out planned spending in 2019-20 of £4.7 billion, £0.9 billion of which is expected to go on 16-to-18 year old apprenticeships and £0.5 billion which is allocated for FE loans. Excluding these two items, the total is £3.3 billion. In the first year of the new apprenticeship levy (2017-18), DfE reported an £337 million underspend on apprenticeships in its most recent set of accounts, for 2017-18 (financial review, Page 46). the calculation appears to be confined to revenue spending. Including all types of spending, the Learning and Skills Council spent £5.5 billion in 2009-10 (see Skills Funding Agency 2010-11 financial statements, Page 55) on the same items that are in the skills funding letter (£4.8 billion if 16-to-18 apprenticeships are excluded) a comparison of cash spending ignores inflation. The Consumer Price Index is expected to rise by 22% over the decade. Government has also increased the costs it expected education and training providers to meet - for example higher pension contributions to cover past underfunding. the comparison chooses a version of adult education and training spending which just looks at the education department. Between 1980 and mid 1990s, government spent large sums on training for the unemployed via Manpower Services Commission and its successors. The historic peak might actually have been in the 1980s when 3 million people were unemployed but it is hard now to reconstruct budgets likewise, a growing share of apprenticeships spending now goes on standards at Level 6 and above (eg degree and MBA apprenticeships). the comparison ignore changes in the population. England will have a historically high population in 2020 - about 3 million more people than in 2010. DfE publishes a lot of data but does not properly track key indicators like spending and funding on key programmes for different ages. Any queries or corrections to this note, please contact