According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the UK increased expenditure on education by around 900 per cent in real terms between 1953 and 2009. Current education spending is at record level. The increasing population, however, will mean a real-terms decrease in spending of 8 per cent per pupil by 2020. Even so, the Department for Education has pointed out that by 2020 schools will be getting 50 per cent more per pupil in real terms than in 2000.
Will the coming 8 per cent decrease cancel out the previous 900 per cent increase? Hardly! Moreover, amongst developed countries the UK continues to spend, more or less, the highest proportion of its wealth on education, according to the OECD’s 2017 ‘Education at a Glance’ survey.
Quoting Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the new National Education Union, the BBC reported this as signifying a ‘funding catastrophe’. It took its cameras to Warnham CE Primary School in West Sussex to prove Kevin’s point. It described the county as ‘an area of low funding’. This is incorrect. Compared with most of the world, including countries with far higher educational standards, it is an area of high spending on education.
True, largely rural and affluent West Sussex has suffered in the past from less funding than urban areas but the government’s new National Funding Formula has redressed that imbalance.
The BBC chose to ignore Ofsted’s assessment of Warnham Primary as ‘requires improvement’. Key areas of failure include ‘effectiveness of leadership and management’ and ‘quality of teaching learning and assessment’. With a small fraction of Warnham CE Primary’s budget, children in much poorer countries such as Vietnam and Estonia are miles ahead academically.
Instead, it focused on a classroom rug and explained that it was purchased by parents – ‘part of a wish list set up on-line by one mum’. The list also included day-to-day necessities such as ‘hand towels, tissues, toilet rolls, glue sticks, pencils, exercise books’. Parents ‘have to raise the funds somehow to provide all the children in the next school year with exercise books,’ because ‘the money is not necessarily there’.
So, where is all the money going? Does Warnham CE Primary, a school of around only 200 pupils, really need its 20 classroom assistants? To sustain fake and failed methods of so-called child-centred teaching, it probably does.
Taking away most of those assistants would not only solve budget problems, it would force teachers to ditch a lot of ineffective group work. They would be forced to use more of the teacher-directed, whole-class teaching that is the norm in the Asia Pacific superstar education systems. It was once the norm here, too and explains why, according to the OECD, we are the only country in the developed world where grandparents out-perform their grandchildren.
The true ‘funding catastrophe’ in our schools is not a spending shortfall reported by the BBC. It is profligate expenditure on supporting ineffective but expensive teaching methodologies that leave our pupils three years behind the likes of Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong by the age of fifteen.