Monday, May 27, 2024
HomeNewsThe school underfunding myth our new PM has fallen for

The school underfunding myth our new PM has fallen for


PARENTS will be painting, decorating and gardening at Avenue Junior School in Norwich this summer. Head teacher Debbie Dismore’s dismal message to them is that the school faces a ‘difficult financial situation’ because ‘all areas of school expenditure’ have been cut back. ‘Can you help us to make the school ready for September?’ is her plea.

Parents, unsurprisingly, are angry. One told the BBC: ‘We are also furious about what austerity measures have done to real people at the grass roots of our education system.’

Another complained: ‘My family will be volunteering but this is such a sorry reflection on the state of the education system that our school has had to resort to this.’

Across the country, other parents will be doing much same at their children’s school.

What a winning narrative this is for the Blob, the educational establishment! Schools are being starved of cash by a nasty Right-wing government and children are suffering as consequence. For their explanation of failure in our schools you need look no further than a lack of funding.

This view is reinforced by the news yesterday that 5,000 headteachers plan to march on Downing Street in September to demand that Boris Johnson dishes out billions in extra funding. (Note: The march will be in school time.)

The new prime minister, certainly, has no alternative but to accept this narrative if his party is to prevail at a general election which is, surely, just around the corner. The votes of parents and grandparents are decisive. Boris Johnson is, therefore, promising several billion pounds of extra investment to help make good the claimed shortfall in school budgets.

Who cares that the school under-spending story is untrue? Who cares that according to an Institute for Fiscal Studies publication we spend close to nine times more today in real terms than during the 1950s? Who will ask the embarrassing questions? Why is UK schooling so expensive compared with many more successful systems around the world? Why are a majority of staff in school these days not teachers?

So many questions are either unanswered or unacknowledged, let alone the greatest question of all: Why do our schools achieve so little on international comparisons when they spend so much? According to the OECD we are, more or less, the only country in the developed world in which grandparents outperform their grandchildren in basic employment skills. 

The truth is that our school system is a monster with an insatiable appetite for taxpayers’ money but to little effect. Why? This is the question that is not being asked.

A OECD report in 2014 noted that in the United States and the United Kingdom, where professionals are among the highest-paid in the world, students whose parents work as professionals do not perform as well in mathematics as children of professionals in other countries – nor do they perform as well as children in Shanghai and Singapore whose parents work in manual occupations.

Little has changed. In our maintained schools, comparative under-achievement, if it is admitted at all, is blamed on lack of funding.

The UK cannot, of course, go on fooling itself for ever. The fact of school failure not being linked to under-spending will have to be confronted one day. That our 20 per cent most affluent pupils are outperformed by the bottom 10 per cent in the likes of Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore – the children of factory workers and cleaners – is not a sustainable position for the UK economy.

One day our government and the electorate will be obliged by reality to recognise the Blob’s great lie. It is a great pity for us all that political expediency means that this will be later rather than sooner.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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