I try really hard here not to get too political which, as anyone who knows me will agree, is REALLY difficult for me. But I had to add something to the education funding debate, something to which not enough people are explicitly drawing attention.
When Michael Gove originally came up with his new (or ‘repro’, as I like to think of it) curriculum for 14-16 year olds, and his idea of redrawing the grades from a range of A* to G to a range of 9 to 1, (the Oldest Teacher in the Staffroom said he remembered when it was last like that…) we joked that he must be getting bungs from the educational publishers, as every GCSE textbook in the country would need to be replaced and every teacher in the country would need to be sent on training courses. The cost of all this change management would be astronomic.
“But,” we all said to each other, “there’s an economic crisis out there. Hard Working Families are struggling to make ends meet; public services are under intense pressure; the infrastructure of the country is near breakdown. Surely wiser counsel would prevail! Surely everyone would audit the costs of these changes and decide that now was not the time to embark on such a massive expenditure.” But no. What Michael wanted, Michael, inexplicably, got.
A cursory internet search has not revealed the full cost to British schools of this change. But it won’t be cheap.
Let’s revisit the household budget analogy so beloved by politicians. Let’s say that my dishwasher and my fridge and my washing machine and my tumble dryer and my oven are all, at the same time, starting to show their age. They’re creaking a bit. They’ll probably do me a few years more, but they’re nowhere near as shiny and whirry and quiet and ecologically sound as my neighbours, the Jones. So I go down to my local electric appliance retailers and the sales person lights up as I describe my dilemma. They show me replacements for all of my white goods and although they are all unexpectedly expensive, they will wash my clothes and my pots and pans, dry my clothes, cook my food and chill my groceries better than what I have now. So I think about it. My job is threatened by a global downturn in demand for the widgets that my company manufactures; my bills are going up because prices are on the rise, and I am pretty sure that the boiler won’t last much longer and will need replacing and that’s my biggest priority. Do I go ahead and replace all of my kitchen equipment? No, of course I don’t, because I’m not stupid, I’m not made of money, and I can see further than the end of next week! The salesman blusters and uses all his sales techniques from A-Z, but I am adamant. I go home, make a list of priorities, do my sums and decide which ONE of those appliances I will replace. If any.
Fast forward to the current, utterly predictable funding crisis in education, and the government says that they are paying more money than ever before into the system, and no one on any side seems to be talking about this huge, ASTRONOMIC cost centre which is entirely of the government’s making. Who knows, maybe when it’s all bedded down and the schools who have not been forced into closure are in better financial position, maybe then some people will adjudge that it was worth it, and that the improvements in British education made the benefits outweigh the costs. Maybe. But I would be willing to bet a fairly hefty sum that this vanity project of the now out-of-favour Gove will not do what it said it would do and that those millions, maybe even billions, of pounds will not effect any measurable improvement in students’ outcomes.
So. To be utterly clear, it is not business as usual in schools. Schools are required to navigate the biggest, costliest changes with no marked increase in funding, and for the government, knowing that this was a mistake and having caused this crisis, to say that more money is going into schools than ever before is not simply disingenuous; it is nothing short of scandalous.