I could happily write pages of text sarcastically criticising various educational policies of all main political parties, but this would require more time than I currently have to research them all. (I will however do this with today’s latest stupid idea from Mr Corbyn about free lunches in a moment.) Suffice to say a great many of these policies are pretty pointless, and divert schools attention away from the purpose that they were created for – providing a good education for future generations.
Today (at the time of writing) saw Corbyn confirm that he wants to spend £950million on free school lunches for all primary school children. Well – I’d really love to know how this will be done when not all primary schools have functioning kitchens, let alone dinner ladies (sorry for the 1980s stereotype, I grew up with some amazing ones!), and therefore is this going to require considerable capital build projects, or more outsourcing of the Education budget to private lunch providers from a party that is campaigning for re-nationalisation of the railways, banks, and goodness only knows what other industries. Seems like it hasn’t really been thought through properly.
Reality check – there is neither sufficient demand for, or money to cover the cost of this policy in the DfE budget (or is this another promise being paid for by the Corporation Tax changes being proposed?). Instead, what ALL political parties should be doing is promising to fund schools properly so that the ever increasing cost pressures on school budgets that are causing countless ‘deficit reduction plans’ to be drafted, that includes in some schools compulsory redundancies. The funding crisis is becoming increasingly well documented by people far better informed of budgetary pressures than me, so let me suggest a some practical ways that schools could be supported to do in order to focus on our primary purpose:
- The DfE should set up a free advertising space for ALL schools to recruit new staff. In one move this could put some organisations out of business, for example the TES, and the numerous other organisations that take money from the DfE budget as profit for shareholders and out of the hands of Headteachers. It has become increasingly difficult to find new jobs because of the explosion of organisations offering advertising, so putting it all under one roof not only saves schools thousands of pounds a year and diverts this money into the classroom, but it also takes a considerable amount of work out of the system for administration staff/business managers etc.
- Cap the costs that schools pay out for agency staff, or better still, return to a system where local authorities maintain a list of local supply teachers and the money stays in the system rather than going to companies that charge extortionate fees for supply that often isn’t very good. In some schools where recruitment is a problem, supply costs can run into 6 figures. This is scandalous, and should be spent employing full time teachers so that students get a decent education.
- Cut back on the ever increasing expectation on schools to provide non-core services out of hours. Why have schools increasingly become child-minding providers both before and after school? It is mainly to provide cheap (or free) childcare so that more parents can work full time. All this does is divert both staff time and money away from the core budget.
- Stop paying for free meals for whole cohorts of students and focus this just on children from economically disadvantaged families. A large proportion of children don’t need to be fed by the state.
- Investigate and sort out the ongoing scandal of PFI within the education system. This hasn’t been publicised in recent years, but there must be significant sums (hundreds of millions at least) still being paid off by schools for scandalous PFI agreements signed by Blair’s and Brown’s Labour Governments that are now just lining the pockets of big business.
- Stop the constant change to the curriculum. Thankfully Justine Greening said there would be no new initiatives when she took over as Secretary of State. I hope that the election doesn’t change this. We need time and space to integrate the new curriculum and learn how best to maximise the chances of students in the new exams. At primary level, schools need to continue to embed the new Primary curriculum and assessment processes too.
- Reduce the excessive burden from the league tables. Game playing by schools to improve their position in the tables costs money, and often is of no benefit to the students. By changing the way schools are held accountable, (whilst still having some sort of measure of accountability) this can only help to divert money back to where it is needed.
- Fully fund the increasing cost burdens that are being placed on schools. Increased National Insurance payments, pensions, Apprenticeship Levy, and the various other bills that are being presented to schools need to be funded properly otherwise this money comes directly out of the staffing budget and straight back into central government coffers.
- Finally, after saving all this money, find just a little bit more to boost teachers pay. We have endured 7 years of 1% pay rises. We continue to work more hours than is healthy to embed ever increasingly demanding curricula, and provide all the additional services that are being asked of schools. It is time that this public sector pay freeze ended. We have taken about as much as we can take on our pay. It is time we shared in some of the increasing prosperity that we are seeing after recent years of a growing economy.