Education and today’s budget

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imageI’d like to comment on the educational aspects behind today’s budget.
I will focus on four areas announced today…

1. Announcement of £500m in extra funding to kickstart the fairer funding proposals for schools.
2. Look to extend mathematics teaching to the age of 18
3. Focus on performance of schools in the north
4. Conversion of ALL schools to academy status by 2022 at the latest.

I’ve put these in no particular order but would like to give in initial comment about each one based on my own perceptions and some anecdotal evidence.

Fair funding is essential in the long term but there is a reason why this current anomalous funding formula has remained for so long – it will be very messy to straighten out and there will be significant losers as well as winners. I welcome any extra funding into education provided it is ‘extra’ funding. I’ve had too much experience of apparent extra funding actually being money already in the system but just ‘re-packaged’ – pupil premium being a case in point. £500million sounds a lot of money but equates to an average of £25,000 per school. This is nothing in comparison to the deficit budgets many schools are running by virtue of funding being frozen whilst costs have increased.  In the last few years there has been an effective 10% cut in real terms to school budgets – don’t let the Tories tell you different. Of course it won’t be going to all schools and I expect will be used to mitigate against further cuts in funding for those schools who have fared relatively well with the old funding formula.

He has announced consultation on extending mathematics education to the age of 18. Why this, along with much of what I refer to in this post, should be an announcement made by the chancellor in a budget and not the Secretary of State for Education defeats me (succession planning Mr Osborne?). As a passionate teacher of mathematics I of course want everyone to study mathematics. However we need to also consider logistics and appropriateness of curriculum. The government this year made it compulsory for all pupils who had not achieved a grade C in mathematics to continue studying GCSE until they get their C whilst in further study. This usually (bot not always) means FE college as many sixth form schools now set their entry requirements for post 16 5 A*-C’s including English and mathematics. The problem is that colleges just don’t have the number of staff who are able to deliver a level 2 mathematics curriculum to those needing to retake their GCSE let alone making ALL pupils study mathematics to the age of 18. It clearly also has staffing implications for 6th form schools. I’m not against the study of mathematics to the age of 18 provided it is an appropriate and meaningful mathematics course taught by staff who are able to teach it. In an age where post 16 funding is getting squeezed more and more this will need some significant investment and I have no confidence in this government to deliver this.

The chancellor has asked Sir Nick Weller, chief executive of the Dixons academy chain, based in Bradford, to investigate how to turn around education in the north in the way education in London was turned around. Look back at what I’ve said on my blog in the past and look at the policies Yorkshire First, the party I support and represent, have proposed to put in place (and are now being taken up by other politicians and the Yorkshire Post).  These ideas may be a useful first step Sir Nick.  My fear is, considering his position as head of one of the big academy chains, his solutions will be more along the supermarket model that seems to be the in thing for these large chains rather than the collaboration based model that drove the London Challenge. I look forward to being proved wrong.

Finally the ‘biggy’ – the ‘forced’ academisation of all schools by 2022. I work in an academy. One that converted post 2010 and is not part of a ‘chain’. I’m not anti-academy per se but I have a massive issue with being forced to convert. Primary schools and many secondaries are effectively being told to convert into a ‘small business’ which will be prey to the economic problems all small businesses are subject to. Without the safety net of the local authority how can a school like this survive the violent winds of the free market economy? Of course the answer is coming under the umbrella of one of the big academy chains, which is what I suspect is the driving force behind this announcement.  I have a fear that this government sees the future of state education being in the hands of 4 or 5 super chains and run more like production lines than educational institutions.  Small schools simply don’t have the economy of scale to cope long term without this protection. You may disagree with me here but I think education is too important to the future of our country to be released to the one size fits all mantra of the large scale chains.  Chancellor Osborne is effectively announcing  the privatisation of state education and, contrary to the current desire for devolution and localism, it is actually increasing centralisation.  Budgets and control come from the Secretary of State (or should that be the chancellor now?) in Westminster and from the ever present and malevolent shadow that is OfSTED.  They need to remember that what made the London challenge work was local solutions created and delivered at a local level.  One size does not fit all!

Ultimately I don’t trust this chancellor or this government to do the right things to improve state education long term. This budget has the kernels of good ideas but I seriously doubt the motives behind them. As I said earlier I’d be ecstatic to be proved wrong!!

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Wayne Chadburn

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