Claims by the Department for Education over school funding have sparked an investigation by an official watchdog.

The UK Statistics Authority was created to prevent the government and ministers from misusing official statistical data.

Now the authority is stepping in after BBC News reports showed that education ministers who defended their state school spending record had also included money spent on tuition fees by university students.

And, more surprisingly, the figures include what parents have spent on private school fees.

The BBC’s figures were confirmed by the think tank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that compiles comparisons of international spending figures.

Not limited to public spending on schools

However, the DfE says that its claim on spending is not limited to public spending on schools and it will be standing by its ‘accurate use of the figures’.

Now headteachers’ leaders say that the ‘extraordinary’ use of statistics by the Department for Education is ‘disrespecting teachers and schools’.

They warn that the DfE now has serious questions to answer over the ‘veracity of the figures’ being used.

The watchdog’s stepping into the school spending row follows a march by headteachers on Parliament last Friday, demanding that school budgets be improved.

Ministers dismissed the school leaders claims and said that the UK is ‘the third highest spender in the world’ on education and that schools are now receiving more money than they ever have before.

Headteachers say they are ‘disturbed and shocked’

These claims have led to close scrutiny with headteachers saying they are ‘disturbed and shocked’ that the DfE’s figures on spending include the billions of pounds spent on tuition fees by students.

The statistics watchdog reports directly to Parliament and will check for any misleading figures and also the context in which they are presented.

Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the government is spending record amounts on schools and England is the third highest spender on education.

It’s this last claim to be the third highest spender which has provoked most anger since it appears that the figures do not include just government funding for schools in England, but all types of spending on education, including public and private schools, as well as universities plus independent school fees and tuition fees.

One of the organisers of the headteachers’ march, Jules White, said ministers are using ‘distorted impartial information’.

The figures being used on school funding

News of the watchdog’s investigation has also led to the National Education Union’s joint leader Mary Boustead saying that the figures being used on school funding are ‘appalling’.

The National Association of Headteachers’ leader, Paul Whiteman, said: “We have argued consistently that school funding is down, in real terms, by 8%.

“The Institute of Fiscal Studies agrees and the National Audit Office agrees and parents see it is true.”

The UK Statistics Authority says it will ‘publish their findings shortly’ after concerns were raised to spark their investigation.