The students, of course, were the star turns. Our man put them through their paces on whether or not the opening of a new coalmine in Whitehaven is a good thing or a bad thing and was much impressed at the breadth of their considered replies. Three of the students want to study Geog at university and could reflect knowledgeably on the relative merits not only of the courses under advisement, but also interesting features of their localities. One is havering between Sussex and Newcastle and I am ready to advise on that.
I know three things about Whitehaven. First, a woman once pushed her partner’s van into the harbour because she was sick of him. He obviously hadn’t worked out it was best to stay on good terms with a person who can shove Transits about. Second, it used to have a really good second-hand bookshop from which I got a nice early copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Third, it has a Weather Museum where you can do your own forecast, blue screen and all, outside of which I was once prevented from parking by an angry goose. It is to the benefit of youth that they don’t have their heads clogged up with such, or they’d never get a single A level.
Sunday and Monday’s weather was so pretty it was worthy of a gallery rather than a museum. Despite hopeful emails from students asking if we would close, we didn’t, of course, and made the best of it. Snow is nobody’s friend up close and much better looked out at from a warm indoors if you’re over 18. We were 27 teachers down at the start of the day with not a supply teacher to be had, but people got in eventually and everyone mucked in. Managing snow excitement is demanding at this end of term, but we did that too. I thought, as I picked my way gingerly across the yard, people can’t afford to heat their flats and houses or feed their children. We have to stay open, no matter what, just for that.
So how are we feeling as we trudge or slip towards the end of term? I’ve got Ofsted’s Annual Report neatly printed out waiting for me on the settee in my office, observing that SEND structures and funding are very far from working. Next to it is the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Annual Report into Education Spending. They say:
- In 2021–22, total spending on education in the UK stood at £116 billion or 4.6% of national income (including the cost of issuing student loans). This is about the same share of national income as in the early 2000s, mid 1980s and late 1960s, but lower than the mid 1970s and late 2000s, when it was well over 5% of national income.
- Between 2010–11 and 2019–20, there was a real-terms cut of 8% or £10 billion in total education spending. A £7 billion increase over the next two years reversed much of this cut, such that education spending was only 2% lower by 2021–22 than in 2010–11. About two-thirds of the rise since 2019–20 (or £4.5 billion) reflects standard increases in education spending, whilst about £2.5 billion reflects a higher and more volatile cost of issuing student loans.
- In the late 1970s, education spending represented 12% of total government spending, making it the equal largest area of government spending. This has since fallen to 10% of total government spending in 2021–22, which equals a historical low point. At the same time, we estimate that 20% of the UK population was in full-time education in 2021–22, equal to the highest it has been in at least 60 years. In sharp contrast, as the share of the population over 65 has risen, the share of total spending on healthcare has more than doubled from just over 9% in the late 1970s to over 20% today.
John Donne said ‘tis the year’s midnight’ in A Nocturnal on St Lucy’s Day. That's how it feels, perhaps this year more than most. We’ll talk about light, hope and love in Assembly tomorrow and then give each other a break until the New Year. No matter what the problems around us, we’ll try to make 2023 the best yet.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!