The demands on state schooling and the cost of it will increase significantly if Lord Adonis gets his way. Education’s eminence grise has come up with the crackpot idea of placing a levy of 25 per cent on private-school fees to fund failings and deficiencies in the maintained sector. The money raised would go towards both a teachers’ pay increase and extra tuition for deprived pupils who are falling behind.
His Lordship does not appear to have built into his calculations the cost to the Exchequer of many private schools – perhaps half – closing as a consequence of his proposed reform. It is likely to mean the enforced migration of two to three hundred thousand private-school pupils into the state sector, to be educated at taxpayers’ expense.
Given that the parents of privately educated children already subsidise the state sector through their taxes, the Adonis plan is a spiteful mixture of Marxism and gross stupidity. It was twenty years ago that Adonis assumed the education mantle at Tony Blair’s Downing Street’s Policy Unit. In 2005 he was made a life peer and became Minister of State for Education. He is now chairman of the government’s National Infrastructure Commission.
Over these last two decades, few individuals have exercised as much influence over educational policy and debate as he has. His justifiable criticism of local education authorities, for once, put the interests of children above those of the educational establishment. It persuaded Tony Blair to initiate a programme for ‘self-governing’ academies which was to be enthusiastically adopted by the Conservatives. As early as 2008 Michael Gove admitted that his party was ‘on the same page as Andrew Adonis’.
What Adonis proposes for the future of our school system, therefore, matters, and it matters a lot. He is a politician who, to some extent, crosses the political divide and is seen by many to have his heart in the right place. His record, though, does not stand up to scrutiny. ‘Twenty wasted years and counting’ might be the epitaph on his period of influence over schools. His failure to focus on teaching quality, concentrating rather on administrative structures, has now led him to press the ‘spend, spend’ panic button.
Educational management would be comparatively simple if we could raise attainment by spending more. Sadly, the nine times ‘real terms’ increase in educational spending since the 1950s has not worked. The fact that the UK is one of the world’s biggest ‘per head’ spenders on education has not stopped our fifteen-year-olds from from falling well behind comparatively poor countries such as Vietnam and Estonia on the OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests. What a disgrace it is that those educated in the 1950s in the UK outperform our recent school-leavers in basic literacy and numeracy.
For all its good intentions, the Adonis era in education has, largely, been one of unfulfilled promises. He has now told the Financial Times that a 25 per cent levy on private school fees is needed to help children suffering from what doctors call ‘sh*t life syndrome’ in places such as Blackpool and ‘also Hull, Grimsby, large parts of the North and the Midlands, and large towns in the South, including Hastings, Dover and Folkestone’.
He is dangerously deluded. The OECD has noted that the bottom 10 per cent socially in Shanghai – the most deprived – outperform the UK’s top 20 per cent socially. It has consistently pointed out that deprivation is not an excuse for poor attainment. In addition, one hardly needs to be an economist to work out that a punitive taxation levy on private schools will not raise more income for state education. Rather, it will have the opposite effect by increasing state-school pupil numbers as many private schools close.
Power and influence combined with educational ignorance and economic illiteracy make Lord Adonis a very dangerous ‘do-gooder’ indeed!