Tell it as is it – Part 2

The Public Accounts Committee has just issued its latest report entitled the ‘The Funding for Disadvantaged Pupils’.

In the summary it concludes that ‘… the Department for Education needs to be better at supporting schools to share and use best practice more consistently so that more schools use the Pupil Premium effectively. In addition, there remain inequalities in the core funding received by schools with very similar levels of disadvantage. As the impact of the Pupil Premium will take a long time to be fully realised, the Department needs to do more to demonstrate its emerging benefits in the meantime. We also urge the Department to carry out an early review of the effectiveness of the Early Years Pupil Premium.’

This seems to me to reinforce the point make in the study of the DfE by Dr Cappon, mentioned earlier this week by this blog in another post. Perhaps politicians have confused the concept of a market with the role of players within it. When I did Economics 101, or ‘O’ level as it was in the UK in those days, the first two lessons were on markets and effective demand. We were all told that we might like a sports car, but most of us would not be able to afford one. Our latent demand wasn’t the same as our effective demand for a second hand old banger as our first car. On markets, it was seen as the mechanism for determining the price of a good. Indeed, in areas such as the Stock Market, it still is. However, markets usually have winners and losers and losers react in different ways, such as by reducing supply or quitting the market.

Now the best thing to come out of the past twenty years in education is a recognition that there is more than one type of meaning to the term ‘equality’. It was a sharper focus on the recognition that spending on some pupils needs to be greater if they are to achieve a minimum standard of education that led to the Pupil Premium. I would argue that the Lib Dems were the first to articulate this concept under Phil Willis and Richard Grayson when he was at CentreForum as it then was. Indeed, Nick Clegg also brought an understanding of this notion of equality from his experience as an MEP to this debate.

The challenge, as the Public Accounts Committee and Dr Cappon make clear is, in a department of state where an idealistic notion of the market as a means of solving problems holds sway, how do you get consumers – the schools in this case – to use their resources to the end you seek: reducing the learning gap between the disadvantaged and others in society. Do you use a carrot – the equivalent of lowering prices – or a stick, send in Ofsted to create effective use of funds such as the Pupil Premium? The problem with the market model is that consumers -schools – have to want the same thing as the DfE, and that might not be their focus.

Is a ‘special offer this week – funds for disadvantaged pupils – buy here’ really the best way to eradicate the learning gap and increase social mobility? Clearly, the Public Accounts Committee don’t seem to think so. That they also think there are issues with the core funding of schools is another worry for another blog post.


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