May 4, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
This is about real people, and the future of this country.
The state primary school of which I am Governor has had to cut funding for ‘BEST club’ – which helps pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. It has not been able to buy full sets of books for classrooms, leaving some classes listening to audiobooks instead of reading the actual books. Children sit at computers waiting for 15 minutes on the off-chance they might load because there is no money to renew the IT infrastructure nor provide competent IT support.
Admin services get cut, anything that can be cut without affecting teaching, but all these things DO affect teaching. BEST club was there to help the most vulnerable pupils, who find it difficult to access their education because of issues in their lives that result in them needing more support. If they can get that support, the teacher has more time for the other pupils.
I would like to invite every Conservative MP to visit their local state schools and listen to the Heads and School Business Managers. Give them ten minutes and they will be able to explain why the school funding crisis is real. I am the Governor of one of my local state primary schools and I can tell you it’s real. I am non-partizan politically so I ask that you understand that this is about the future of the country, not the election.
Solving it is not easy, because it involves a lot more money, and I understand as an Economics teacher that could be less money elsewhere. I also understand as an Economics teacher that money invested well in education can increased future productivity and employability and mean that money is paid back in droves many years later. So my aim with this blog is to convince you to see through the current Tory rhetoric and understand that there is a problem and how it affects you.
Britain’s population is growing. The population of pupils are growing. This means demand for education is growing. These children need a good education. A good education gives children hope. Being able to read and write well gives children life opportunities. Being supported emotionally helps children deal with the difficulties of growing up in a way that some parents cannot do. A good education means that the country’s future is more assured, both economically, but also socially. The decisions we make now are thus vital and cannot be ideologically driven.
The problem is, I feel, at the moment we DO have an ideologically driven Conservative government, but their educational ideology is not backed by data, evidence or understanding of what it is like to run any organisation in which your costs are unavoidably rising (at least 80% of a school’s costs are teacher salaries which cannot go down, but whose revenue is falling.
Unlike the NHS, where people are politically terrified of addressing the increasing demand for the service, merely instead insisting on extra money to meet that demand, nobody questions the need for education to be provided for young people.
We used to have a system where Local Education Authorities (LEAs) oversaw all schools in their borough. This meant schools were forced to ‘buy’ services from their LEA, regardless of whether they were good or bad. This was seen by the Conservative Party (who have a basic fear of state monopolies being the answer to anything) as inefficient. Free schools were introduced to ‘free’ state schools from having to be overseen and to buy services (eg finance, human resources, education welfare, school improvement) from their local authorities. Instead, they could buy them from any willing provider. Never mind that this often meant they had no choice but to buy from the very same people from their LEA, who had set up again as a private ‘consultancy’ (for much higher fees). ‘Free’ schools were ‘free’ from the dead-hand of the state, and this was supposedly a ‘good thing’.
Then, the Conservatives decided to address the problem of what they called ‘unfair’ budgets being awarded which had starved rural schools (which tended to be in their constituencies) but gave urban schools (which tended to be in Labour constituencies) more funding. Their solution was to re-apportion this funding more ‘fairly’, as opposed to solving the problem simply by giving those rural schools more.
The result? Well, the Tories will tell you there has never been more money apportioned to education than before. This may be so, but if the number of pupils has gone up faster than the budget, that means LESS money per pupil. Bear in mind costs are rising during this time and schools have to decide what services they have to cut in order to not overspend their budget, which they are not allowed to do.
The Education Policy Institute, an independent think tank, estimates that the “large real terms per pupil cuts of between 6% and 11% by 2019-20” amounts to an average loss of £74,000 per primary and £291,000 per secondary school. This is not money schools can afford to lose.
Of course, at the same time. The Head and her management team are expected to deliver better results every year with less funding. They are incredibly committed, think deeply about their teaching and do what they can within reason. But reason in education policy seems to have gone out of the window.
We will ALL pay for this in the future.