Retrenchment aptly describes schools and their budgets since 2010. Beginning with austerity (formerly known as public sector cuts) funding has plummeted. Governments since 2010 have tried doggedly to avoid solving the problem.
First, they said there wasn‘t a problem and school leaders should stop going on about it and do their jobs properly.
Second, they said that there well may be a problem, but that because the money was hiding in clumps and not fairly distributed. The National Fair Funding Formula would sort this out so everyone would be happy. Then the NFFF lost it’s Fair and set about redistributing only the money that was already in the system.
Third, they said that there was, actually, literally loads more money in the system so, like, what is the problem, really? The UK Statistics Agency took a dim view of this. In the interest of balance, they were critical of a union counter-narrative called School Cuts which gave crude and scary headline figures slightly detached from the context. They then issued four rebukes to the DfE along the lines of ‘I am sure you share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them’. Do the sums properly, would you?
Fourth, Lord Agnew put some embarrassed civil servants on the road to go over our budgets with a bottle of champagne promised to any head where they couldn’t find savings. Churchill Pol Roger at £150 or Co-op Les Pionniers at £19.99? I don’t think anybody knows.
As a top-notch strategy for a major public service, guaranteed to bring about the world-class system which politicians apparently desire this is flaky. Schools have had to devote a disproportionate amount of time – and therefore cost – to dealing with the terrible effects of the 8% drop in funding and trying to gather counter-arguments. ASCL cost it at an extra £5.7 billion to deliver basic expectations: £40.2 billion compared to the allocation of £34.5 billion. The Worth Less? campaign has mobilised the reasonable, the parents and the Tory shires.
It is perhaps hopeful therefore, that the next PM will allegedly make school funding a Thing? None of them have looked closely at what heads are saying but all of them are frightened that the ballot box will be impeded by the begging bowls of headteachers. None of them will say: ‘we didn’t care so much about schools, we don’t really care now but I’ll say anything if you PLEASE elect me. And by the way? We’ve spent the money on Brexit, on nothing.’
Notwithstanding, Gove has said he will spend an extra one billion on schools. Javid promises “billions more for education”. Johnson will spend at least £5,000 on every secondary pupil (which wouldn’t help us in London). Even the hapless May is reportedly setting a £27 billion education “spending trap” for whoever follows her. What should they spend it on?
As part of the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), teachers in England (and elsewhere) were asked precisely this: 'thinking about education as a whole, if the budget were to be increased by 5%, how would you rate the importance of the following spending priorities?’
The answers are clear.
- Recruit more support staff to reduce teachers’ administrative loads
- Recruit more teachers to reduce class sizes
I’m surrounded by adolescents all of whose brains are being rewired as they go about. It means that they take risks, push boundaries and – some of them – like the PM contenders, will say anything to get out of trouble. I was showing a Dignitary around this week when we chanced upon an altercation in which intemperate language was used by a youth. I was the net winner in this tussle, one phone the richer as I whisked off to a calmer spot. The youth had to be confined to (our in-house) barracks and as part of the punishment, apologise honestly to me. This he did. It might not stick, but it was properly done.
Adults can do it too. A parent was agitated and spoke with asperity. Time elapsed and an apology appeared: time to think, heat of the moment, sorry. Can we pick up where we were before I lost it?
A group of 18-year-olds, in sight of the final A levels, gather to chat on the yard. Eight years of their education has been sacrificed to shallow, doctrinaire, fearful and punitive spending cuts. Above them a small child pelts along the empty bridge at full throttle, full of energy and on a mission. Perhaps he’ll be luckier.
Sir Walter was a foolish spendthrift and the capable Anne was rescued from his stupidity by the Austen’s best hero, Captain Wentworth. He’s described as having ‘spirit and brilliance but no fine friends to recommend him’ much like the state schools of the nation. We don’t need a hero to rescue us, but we need honesty, openness, truth, trust, justice, wisdom, service and an apology. How dare they use the children as a bargaining token in their vain and vapid competition?