There is a simple fact we have to face. Currently the primary function of ministers in the Department for Education is to present misleading information to the education sector and to the public. This is not a situation where they are accidentally misleading people rather it is a distinct choice being made in order to avoid telling the truth about the impact of their budget cuts on the education of children across the country.
There are two key areas where the department sets out to mislead. The first is when they talk about spending levels. It’s not a new thing but I would have assumed they would have learnt their lesson on this one. But no. This is the spokesperson for the department earlier this month – “School funding in England is at its highest ever level, rising from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion by 2019-20.” Well, this is a truthful statement. However it omits key information in failing to mention the numbers of students that funding is supposed to provide for. That omission is deliberate which makes the statement one intended to deceive. In my view any media outlet carrying the statement without the clarification is complicit in the deception intended by the department.
The second, and perhaps more important one, is when they speak about efficiency savings. Recently this torch has been picked up by Lord Agnew. It is not just the refusal of the department to back up its claims of multi-million pound savings by anonymous schools that undermines the claims and gives the sense that the department doesn’t actually believe its own publicity here. Its not just the constant blithering on about colour photocopies that irritates those who actually work in schools (my own printing profile prevents me from using any colour features of the photocopiers we have). Anyone who believes colour photocopying is widespread in schools should simply take a look in their children’s exercise books. The grayscale landscape they present will soon put that lie to bed.
If it were just those things we could perhaps say “politicians will be politicians” and let it lie (sic). But unfortunately the deception goes further than that, contradicting the departments other great lie, that it is concerned about teacher workload.
Pick any school and look where the spend is. In most around 70% will be on teachers. Lets look at the efficiencies the department drone on about, that they push onto school. Their key idea is “Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning”. What does this actually mean? It means looking at pupil-teacher ratios, teacher contact ratios and the curriculum offer. In other words, the first two look at increasing teacher workload and the third balances that by restricting the curriculum offer to students. On the one hand the department is running expert groups on how to reduce workload whilst on the other they are sending in financial advisors to tell headteachers how to increase it. That seems to be a bit of a deception.
And finally there is the blame game. The department finally seems to realise it has lost the battle over cuts. Most rational people accept there have been cuts. So how to get the department back on the front foot? The word ‘efficiency’ is not neutral. The clear implication when Lord Agnew says he will provide advisors to schools to help with their efficiency is that those schools are currently inefficient and consequently to blame for their not being able to afford to properly educate the children in their care.
The department continue to attempt to mislead the public over their failure to properly fund schools. They have allowed austerity to cut funds to bone and now they are attempting to pass the blame onto the schools themselves. No reasonable person would stand by and allow that happen.