The next two hundred and sixty words

Why do Labour politicians prefer arguing the toss about school structures instead of concentrating on the quality of education? This approach obviously has  resonance with people who work in an educational setting but seems to me to have very little traction with the wider electorate. You could think of this as the ultimate 2.7% strategy.  In particular, at this time, why are they not beating a path to every news studio, every journalist, with the message that there is a financial crisis in schools?

I think I know why. They’re scared. I don’t mean that they’re wimps in any way, but they are scared of the question that comes next. “How are you going to pay for this?”

I would say that if you can’t make this argument then you shouldn’t be in politics.

Look. It is so simple.

Schools educate children.

The better a school is the better the children end up being educated.

If you remove funding from the school system the schools within it are, on balance, going to get worse, and provide a less good education for the children in them.

The better educated a population is, the better the GDP growth is.

Investment in better education increases GDP. And that starts with schools.

So here’s the script.

“The chancellor has made significant changes to the pension and NI system. Because the biggest cost in a school is the cost of staff: teachers, teaching assistants, dinner staff, cleaners etc., these changes will have a disproportionate effect on schools.

Already schools have borne the brunt of front line savings with pay settlements way below the national averages. School budgets are now cut to the bone. Next year a significant proportion of schools, if not the majority will be in the position where their costs are greater than their income.

This means one thing, real cuts in those schools. And given the scale of cuts required it is people that will be cut. Teachers, teaching assistants, dinner staff, cleaners.

The consequence is straightforward. Whilst they will try to minimise the impact the reality is that when the amount that schools have to spend falls at the rate we are talking about, the quality of provision will suffer. It doesn’t matter if they are in a LA school, an Academy or in a chain, children will have fewer opportunities. Standards will fall.

If standards fall, our long-term economic outlook will suffer. All the pennies we save today will mean pounds of national wealth lost in the future.

We will find the additional money that schools need to compensate for the NI and Pension costs that the chancellor has taken away from them so that we can protect the future prosperity of our national economy.

We want better educated children growing into adults with greater opportunities to build a more prosperous country.”

If they can’t get that across, or if they are frightened of making an argument based on education and prosperity, then really, they should be in a different job.


3 thoughts on “The next two hundred and sixty words

  1. I agree that we need to focus on content rather than structures. Good structures might help – but often their significance is overrated.

    The trouble with the argument that the way to get better content is to pay more money is rather undermined by the fact that New Labour paid significantly more into education, during a period in which the relative performance of our education system declined. Even if you do not accept PISA, I think you would find few who thought that the current problems started in 2010.

    I agree with Juliet, above, but I do not think that the shortage of appropriately qualified teachers is a soluable problem. I wrote about this at Education coming’s revolution (, quoting Kim Taylor, Director at the Nuffield Institute in 1970, bemoaning exactly the same problem. We do not have enough skilled teachers to staff a system of universal education, and we never will.

    The answer is surely to make more productive use of the skilled and expert and committed teachers that we have. Which is why I think Nicky Morgan’s professed interest in workload is right on the money and why I think the only answer to this problem (sorry to be so predictable) is the intelligent use of digital technology to automate those aspects of education that can be automated, centralize those aspects of course design that can be centralized, and increase the efficiency with which teachers can handle the very considerable administrative burden of managing progression and feedback.

    1. Two things.

      First, it is very hard to argue that the school system in 2010 was in a less good state than the one to be found in 1997. PISA is a single measure of a complex system. Not all the additional funding was exploited to the maximum benefit, but then again, it rarely is.

      Second, the issue being faced at the moment is not one of how best to spend additional cash, or even how to manage on a flat budget. It is what damage is going to be wrought by real-terms, very deep cuts to effective spending power. There will be no recourse to technological solutions to mitigate this as tech solutions require investment and there simply is no money.

      My suggestion in the post is not “Let’s increase school spending power to improve outcomes” but “Let’s maintain school spending power to help maintain outcomes.”

  2. I would hazard a guess that the quality of education of any school is proportional to the education of the teachers. What do you think? As the job becomes increasingly unpleasant, we’re more likely to lose the well-educated. I know that there is currently a ‘recruitment crisis’ and I have seen, first hand, the loss of experienced, knowledgeable staff and the resorting to ‘taking what we could get’ as better than having nobody at all.

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