Earlier this month, the UK government announced extra funding for education catch-up in England. This took total catch-up funding to about £3.1bn, but the extra £1.4bn fell far short of the nearly £15bn reportedly sought by the Education Recovery Commissioner and the £13.5bn recommended by EPI in our report on education recovery and resilience.

This has prompted significant interest in comparisons of education catch-up funding across the UK, as well as international comparisons. An EPI report earlier this year compared catch-up funding across the four nations of the UK, and our report on education recovery documented examples of countries showing high levels of ambition. In this blog, we update and refine these comparisons to account for new information, data  and announcements.

Data and approach

Before getting into the specific detail, it is worth stressing that national and international comparisons are always subject to some uncertainty and bias due to differences in data, systems, institutions, language and exchange rates. This particularly applies to the area of education catch-up plans, which often apply to different ages and phases of education, have different time profiles and the boundary between catch-up and general education spending is not always clear-cut. Comparisons at particular points in time can also be shaped by the precise budget cycle and timetable in each country.

In what follows, we set out our best estimates of education catch-up spending per pupil in total across each nation and country, accounting for the specific age coverage of the spending plans and looking over multiple years. Nevertheless, there is likely to be some imprecision due to difficulties in making such comparisons. If these calculations can be improved, we will happily update them. If others with detailed knowledge of other countries can help us expand the list of international comparisons, we would gladly also add this information too.

Comparisons within UK

Figure 1 below shows our best estimates of education catch-up spending per pupil across the four nations of the UK based on announcements to date. Total planned spending per pupil is currently highest in Wales (£400 per pupil), followed by England (£310 per pupil), , whilst it is about £230 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In England, this includes support for early years practitioners, a general and targeted catch-up premium for schools, summer schools, teacher training, support for school and college leavers, and funding for the national tutoring programme through to 2022-23 and beyond. This covers children from the early years through to providers of 16-19 education.

In Wales, the package covers the “Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards” programme focused on employing extra teachers and teaching-assistants in 2020-21 and 2021-22. It also covers specific support for the early years and foundation phase, students in exam year groups, 16-19 learners, teacher training, summer activities and mental health. It is very notable that over £70m of the £205m package relates to supporting 16-19 and vocational leaners, which is clearly a big priority in Welsh Government education recovery plans.

The package shown for Scotland relates to school- children, so is slightly different in coverage. It covers education recovery spending focused on employing extra teachers and summer activities. In Northern Ireland, spending shown here relates to the Engage programme in schools and early education (2020-21 and 2021-22), summer activities for children and young people, pastoral support and support for pupils with special educational needs.

Importantly, the package announced so far for England extends into 2022-23 and beyond, whilst in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the packages only go up to 2021-22. This almost certainly reflects the budgeting cycle and the way grants are provided to the devolved administrations, which have not been for 2022-23. The extra funding for England was only announced a few weeks ago and the devolved administrations will now yet know the implications for the grants that fund the lion’s share of their spending. It therefore seems highly likely that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will all increase and top-up these plans in the near future once this information is known, particularly for 2022-23.


Figure 1 – Education catch-up spending across four nations of the UK

For notes and sources, see below

Examples of high-spending countries

Ideally, one would produce comprehensive international comparisons of education catch-up spending. However, differences in institutions, systems, the nature of plans, language barriers and the role of exchange rates all make this an extremely challenging and time-consuming exercise. Instead, we therefore compare plans for the four nations of the UK with two examples of countries with very ambitious plans: the US and the Netherlands.

As shown in Figure 2, planned spending on education catch-up represents about £2,100 per pupil in the Netherlands, about five time larger than plans for Wales, seven times larger than plans for England and over nine times larger than Scotland and Northern Ireland. These plans are extremely extensive, with the vast majority of the 8.5 billion euro plans taken up by support for catch-up programmes in schools across three years (2021-2023), but also includes support for post-secondary learners, vocational education and tuition fee reductions in higher education. Note that the figure of £2,100 is lower than our previously published estimate of £2,500 as we now additionally account for students in higher education given the plan includes tuition fee reductions. One important caveat is that the pupil numbers we use are slightly out of date (relating to 2016-17), but this seems unlikely to affect the implied scale of the plans to any significant extent.

The US government currently plans to spend about $130bn on education catch-up in K-12 education in public schools (Kindergarten through to the 12th Grade). This represents about £1,800 in per pupil spending. How these funds are used will be largely determined by individual states, but can be used to implement catch-up interventions, employ additional staff, summer schools and activities, support for children with special educational need. and to pay for social distancing measures. This is larger than our previous estimate of £1,600 partly because we have now included a planned additional $8bn for special education, vulnerable young people, and native groups and islands.

Plans for the US and the Netherlands also include some support for social distancing and safety measures, which are not included in the figures for UK nations. However, these measures are unlikely to be the driving force of the scale of these plans. Indeed, it is important to remember that many schools in England did not receive sufficient funding to cover the full cost of these measures and had to, at least partly, meet these costs from their existing budgets.

For both the US and the Netherlands, we convert spending figures into GBP using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) exchange rates for 2020 estimated by the OECD. These are likely to provide a better and more stable guide to the goods and services money can buy in each country.


Figure 2 – Education catch-up spending per pupil across four nations of the UK as compared with the US and Netherlands  


For notes and sources, see below

Summary and Conclusions

Looking across the four nations of the UK, current plans for education catch-up spending show that spending per pupil is due to be £400 in Wales, £310 in England, and about £230 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, plans for England currently extend through to 2022-23 and beyond, whilst they only go up to 2021-22 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It seems highly likely that these plans will be topped up once the devolved administration learn the implications of England’s spending plans for the grants they will receive in 2022-23.

In stark comparison, education catch-up plans for the Netherlands (£2,100 per pupil) and US (£1,800 per pupil) are far larger and more ambitious. Indeed, planned spending in the Netherlands is already five times larger than plans for Wales, seven times larger than for England, and nine times larger than for Scotland and Northern Ireland.





Notes and sources for Figure 1

Notes and sources for England: Education catch-up spending (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-education-recovery-package-for-children-and-young-people, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/huge-expansion-of-tutoring-in-next-step-of-education-recovery), pupil numbers represent a headcount of 2,3 and 4 year olds in early years education or childcare (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/education-provision-children-under-5-years-of-age-january-2020), pupils from Reception to Year 11 in state-funded schools (https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/school-pupils-and-their-characteristics) and young people aged 16-18 in full or part-time state-funded education, excluding Higher Education (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/participation-in-education-training-and-employment-2019).
Notes and sources for Wales: Recruit, Recover and Raise Standards (https://gov.wales/900-extra-teaching-staff-plan-recruit-recover-and-raise-standards-welsh-schools), Renew and Reform, Supporting Learners Well-being and Progression (https://gov.wales/renew-and-reform-supporting-learners-wellbeing-and-progression-html), excludes spending on digital devices and free school meals; head count of all pupils in maintained schools (including nursery-age pupils) in January 2020, (https://gov.wales/schools-census-results-january-2020) and students aged 16-19 in further education (https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Education-and-Skills/Post-16-Education-and-Training/Further-Education-and-Work-Based-Learning/Learners/Further-Education/uniquelearnersenrolledfurthereducationinstitutions-by-age-modeoflearning-level);
Notes and sources for Scotland: Education Recovery funding (https://www.gov.scot/news/remote-learning-to-continue-for-majority/, https://www.gov.scot/publications/education-recovery-further-additional-funding-2020-2021-local-authority-allocations/) and summer activities (https://www.gov.scot/news/enhanced-summer-offer-for-all-children/), number of pupils in publicly funded schools in September 2020 (https://www.gov.scot/publications/summary-statistics-schools-scotland-2020/pages/3/);
Notes and sources for Northern Ireland: Engage Programme (https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/engage-programme-guidance-for-schools-%28version-2-5-october-2020%29.pdf, https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/weir-announces-further-ps16-million-engage-2-programme), Summer Schools and Activities, Pastoral Support and SEN (https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/education/engage-programme-guidance-for-schools-%28version-2-5-october-2020%29.pdf, https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/weir-announces-ps5m-summer-youth-activity-scheme, https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/weir-welcomes-over-ps51m-covid-19-funding-and-full-resumption-sure-start-services, https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/news/weir-announces-ps45m-school-summer-scheme); pupils in all schools and pre-schools, excluding independent schools, in 2020-21 (https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/school-enrolments-northern-ireland-summary-data) and students aged 19 or under on regulated courses in further education colleges (https://www.nisra.gov.uk/statistics/children-education-and-skills/higher-and-further-education-and-training-statistics).  



Notes and sources for Figure 2

Notes and sources for Netherlands: Total spending of 8.5 billion euros (https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/actueel/nieuws/2021/02/17/85-miljard-euro-voor-nationaal-programma-onderwijs), 3.6m pupils across primary schools, secondary schools, upper secondary schools, vocational education and higher education in 2016-17 (https://longreads.cbs.nl/trends17-eng/society/figures/education/); Converted to GBP based on Purchasing Power Parity rate of 0.9 for 2020 (https://data.oecd.org/conversion/purchasing-power-parities-ppp.htm).
Notes and sources for US: Spending level of $122bn (https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-announces-american-rescue-plan-funds-all-50-states-puerto-rico-and-district-columbia-help-schools-reopen); 50.7m children in public K-12 education (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372). Converted to GBP based on Purchasing Power Parity rate of 0.716 for 2020 (https://data.oecd.org/conversion/purchasing-power-parities-ppp.htm).