Less than half of the expenditure on pre-primary education came from public sources in 2015 (47 per cent), the second lowest proportion across OECD countries, which is ‘considerably less’ than the OECD average of 82 per cent, the report said.
The annual survey, Education at a glance 2017, which monitors spending on education in 35 countries, also points out that spending on early education relative to gross domestic product (GDP) is lower than the OECD average – equivalent to 0.5 per cent of GDP, compared to 0.8 per cent.
However, the report points out that this is partly due to the shorter time spent in this phase of education by young children in the UK.
According to the report, 100 per cent of three-year-olds were enrolled into pre-primary education in 2015, well above the OECD average of 73 per cent, and nearly all four- to six-year-olds were enrolled.
Children are more likely to attend pre-primary institutions in the UK than in the OECD as a whole.
Nearly half of children in pre-primary programmes in the UK were in private institutions (49 per cent) compared to 33 per cent on average across the OECD countries.
Commenting on the findings, Natalie Perera, executive director and head of research at the Education Policy Institute, said that this partly explained the cost of childcare.
‘Today's report highlights the relatively low public funding available for early years in the UK, compared to many other developed countries,’ she said. ‘The majority of the cost of early years education in this country is being met by parents and carers, which goes some way to explaining the relatively high cost of childcare. There are strong arguments for the Government to review the overall balance of public funding across educational phases.’
However, on overall education spending the report finds that the UK spends the highest proportion of its GDP on education between primary school and university levels (6.6 per cent compared to the OECD average of 5.2 per cent).
The report also highlights that teachers’ pay in England and Scotland fell in real terms between 2005 and 2015, in contrast to the general trend across OECD countries.
For teachers in England with typical qualifications and 15 years’ experience, taking inflation into account, salaries were worth 12 per cent less in 2015 than in 2005. This was 6 per cent less for teachers in Scotland.
Teaching unions called for urgent Government action on the issue.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘The OECD data confirms what the National Education Union already knows about declining teachers’ pay in England and Wales. The figures show that our teachers are falling behind their European counterparts as well as behind comparable professions in the UK.
‘This, as the OECD concludes, is a key obstacle in recruiting and retaining teachers. The Government needs to act with some urgency to lift the teachers’ pay cap that has resulted in teachers being more than 15 per cent off in real terms since 2010. Ultimately if teaching is not made an attractive profession then the education of children and young people will suffer.
‘It is a serious dereliction of duty on the part of the Government and one which needs to be reversed. These concerns from OECD add to the concerns raised by the STRB [School Teachers’ Review Body]. The Government now really has no excuse. They must end the pay cap.’
Commenting on early years funding a Department for Education spokesperson said, 'We are determined to support as many families as possible with access to high-quality, affordable childcare, which is why we are investing a record £6 billion every year by 2020 in childcare – more than ever before – and doubling the free childcare available to working parents to 30 hours a week, saving them up to £5,000 a year per child.
'This funding includes an additional £1 billion per year by 2019-20 to pay for the free childcare offers and to raise the national average hourly rate paid to councils for three- and four-year-olds to £4.94. This was based on a comprehensive review of childcare costs, which took into account current and future cost pressures. Recent research has also shown the average hourly cost of providing childcare for three- and four-year-olds to be far lower than what we are providing.'