There is considerable scope for improving efficiency in the use of resources in primary education in England. That is the central finding of the research by Margaret Antony, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society''s annual conference in Brighton in March 2016.
Her study brings to light large differences in resource use between the average school and the most efficient schools. Indeed, the school with the lowest level of efficiency has the potential for a 70% efficiency improvement, simply by using existing resources more effectively.
The study examines the relative efficiency of resource use across all English primary schools. This study highlights the importance of efficiency – on how well schools use the available resources, rather than on how much they have. The analysis is undertaken for the period 2002-12 – a period when public spending on education grew very rapidly.
Currently, education is the third largest area of public spending in the UK. Primary education receives about 25% of the total education spending. There is considerable variation across the country in terms of the amount of government funding received. There is also considerable local autonomy in how the money is used. Thus, schools with similar characteristics may receive very different levels of funding.
In addition, schools with the same levels of funding may have very different pupil performance. An analysis of how well resources are used at the school level thus has major policy implications for the improvement of schools.
This study covers all maintained primary schools, from 151 local education authorities (LEAs) in England. The research uses various administrative records on pupils and schools. The main approach to measuring efficiency is based on the average test score at each school: efficiency can be loosely seen as how much is spent per grade.
School-level estimates of efficiency are obtained for all primary schools using the ''Production Frontier'' approach to efficiency measurement. By definition, efficiency can range from 0 (least efficient) to 1 (fully efficient). The evidence from this study suggests a wide range of outcomes across the sector, with efficiency varying between 0.3 and 1. Thus, the school with the lowest level of efficiency has the potential for 70% efficiency improvement, simply by using existing resources more effectively.
The research also brings to light large differences between the average school and the most efficient schools. This implies that many schools could increase their efficiency through learning from ''best practice'' and a more judicious allocation of current resources.
There is systematic variation of efficiency estimates with the socio-economic characteristics of the pupils, with previous test score being the most important factor determining performance.
The efficiency analysis undertaken throws light on the relationship between how a school uses its resources and the results it achieves. Such an analysis is particularly relevant in the context of the resource crunch and evidence of widening disparity and poor performance in the education sector.
''Efficiency in Primary Education in England: An Empirical Analysis on Resource Utilisation and Relative-Efficiency in Primary Schooling'' – Margaret Antony