The big news story this week has been the Conservative Party’s attack on Labour’s plans for education in the next government. Specifically, the Tories have attacked the costings for three of Labour’s policies: that all teachers should be qualified; the creation of 100 University Technical Colleges; a Director of School Standards in every local authority. Of course, if you ask the Treasury mandarins to cost a policy, they will do just that. What they won’t do is ask the wider questions, such as how does this match your own policy so we can factor in those cost as well?
Nowhere is this more evident than in the costing of the UTC policy. The government paper has estimated Labour’s policy as having capital costs over the parliament of around £1.4 billion and staffing of £75 million. But, it hasn’t identified whether the present government, if re-elected, would cease to open any new UTCS or Studio Schools for 14-18 year olds and then taken those costs into account. It also doesn’t seem to have assumed any staff cost saving resulting from the transfer of these students from existing schools. If there isn’t any savings, then the present UTC policy is extremely wasteful of resources and Labour are just copying the Tories in the same manner as the Tories copied Labour over spending on academies. These figures also don’t taken into account the need for any new spending on secondary school places resulting for the birth rate increase over the past decade that will have filtered through to secondary schools by the end of this parliament. It would be legitimate to assign some of those places to UTCs if that we what was wanted.
The valuation of the Director of School standards policy is another area where the government document has assumed a worst case scenario. I am sure all local authorities already have an officer responsible for monitoring standards. The issue is whether the new Directors would be at a higher pay grade? The Tories seem to have assumed that they will be not just responsible for standards but effectively new-style Chief Education Officers and paid appropriately. As Labour’s Blunkett Commission suggested regional commissioners, and the idea was then taken up by the Tories, it seems unlikely that Labour want to recreate split between education and social services, especially as they introduced the merger of the two departments. Personally, I think there is something to be said for a return to separate departments, but that isn’t what the costing should have been based upon.
The third policy of all teachers being qualified is one I heartily agree with and have argued for in this blog. Sadly, the government costing document is the slightest of the three, with no background information on how the costs identified were arrived at. Indeed, so shabby may be the calculations that it is possible that Teach First trainees have been counted as requiring training even though the government already funds the training for these trainees, but describes them as unqualified teachers. Indeed, the 17,000 or so unqualified teachers identified in the 2013 School Census may also have included some School Direct salaried trainees and those completing their GTP programmes that were already being funded creating more double counting.
As Labour’s policy is for new teachers, I assume that existing unqualified teachers – formerly called instructors – would not be sacked but rather allowed to acquire their qualification part-time. This would be far cheaper than any assumption the paper might have made about full-time costs. However, as we don’t know what criteria were used in reaching the nearly £400 million over the life-time of the next parliament assumed as the cost by the government paper it is impossible to take these figures seriously at all. They could either be totally spurious or might have some meaning to them. Either way, the policy of requiring all teachers to be trained is one that should be debated. If the training is pre-entry in future, then the costs are no more than for other teachers required in the numbers agreed by the government. It may be legitimate to recognise that qualified teachers earn more than unqualified ones, but what assumptions have been made about this cost aren’t clear. With training places being regulated, and many left unfilled at present, the comment about increased numbers is training is just silly. The real issue is, if there is a teacher recruitment crisis, who is going to teach in our schools?
These three policy documents do not do the Conservatives or The Treasury credit and sadly don’t say how much they cost the government to produce? This would be worth knowing as we can then debate whether it was a useful expenditure of scarce public resources.