More or less: which way for the future?

The BBC has recently run an interesting piece about the relationship between class sizes and teachers’ salaries, based upon some OECD data. The article headed ‘when class sizes fall so does teachers’ pay’ is an interesting thesis. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47281532 However, how does it relate to the first law of economics that when there is a shortage of supply, and demand remains consistent, either the price will rise or substitution will take place?

The nightmare scenario for government is that facing the secondary sector in England at present. Pupil numbers are on a rising curve, at least until the middle of the next decade. This means more funding will be required, even if the unit of funding per pupil falls in real terms. At the same time, there is a labour shortage that is growing worse in some parts of the curriculum.

Hence, demand for more cash for schooling since, as the BBC pointed out, it is a fact of school life that staffing costs, and especially the cost of teachers, consumes the largest part of any school budget. However, schools are competing with other government services for cash and it seems likely that in England, however hard the teacher associations press their case, the cash needed for the extra pupils will come before any significant uplift in funding per pupil.

So, to that extent, larger classes is one way to fund better pay for teachers. However, most schools, and especially secondary schools, are constrained about how far class sizes can be increased, due to the physical nature of their buildings and the dependence on a classroom based building model.

In England, there may be the space to increase pupil-teacher ratios, perhaps back to where they were around the turn of the century, but that is likely to come from altering contact ratios – the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom – as much as from increasing class sizes. The trade-off of worsening contact ratios will almost certainly be a rethink about workload, since making the job of a teacher look even harder won’t help recruitment into the profession.

There is one helpful point for the government in England, but probably not for parents, and that is the fact that in England children have no right to be taught by anyone with knowledge and training in the subject they are teaching. Indeed, in extremis – nowhere defined except in very vague terms – children can be ‘taught’ by those with no background knowledge or training in what they are asked to teach. So long as there are enough people willing to be teachers, then pay can be kept under control. And, as everyone knows, there are plenty of arts and social science graduates for whom a teaching salary can still look attractive.

Today The Pearson Group published its annual results. Might their experience point to another way forward? The substitution of capital – in the form of IT and AI – for labour? So long as the learner is engaged, as there are in higher education, this may well be part of the way forward. But, for those that see schooling as a struggle between the generations, rather than the development of future wealth and happiness, the physical presence of a teacher overseeing learning has much to recommend it.

Who that teacher might be, and how well they will be paid, will, I am sure, still feature large in the future debates about the economic of education.

 

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OECD’s view of UK teachers

The OECD has today published the latest in its Education Indicators at a Glance series this is a weighty document that takes a while to download even on reasonably fast computers. Still, I is worth the efforts. http://webexchanges.oecdcode.org/F0w3Shjh/EAG2018_final_embargo.pdf

Two of the interesting comments about the United Kingdom are that:

The teaching workforce in the United Kingdom is one of the youngest among all OECD countries, and starting salaries from pre-primary to upper secondary education are below the OECD average.

Lower secondary school heads play an active role in decision making and leadership in the United Kingdom. In England, they earn more than twice the salary of tertiary-educated workers, the highest premium for school heads across OECD countries.

It is interesting to read the OECD comment specifically about headteachers in England as the majority of their observations are a combination of the four ‘home nations’ data into a United Kingdom analysis.

The OECD has some interesting observations about the teaching force in the United Kingdom:

As in most OECD countries, the majority of teaching staff in the United Kingdom are women, with the share of women decreasing as the level of education increases. At lower secondary level, there is more gender balance in the United Kingdom than in many other countries. In 2016, 36% of lower secondary teachers in the United Kingdom were men, almost 5 percentage points higher than the average across OECD countries (31%).

Despite our concerns about attracting men into teaching, the United Kingdom seems to be doing better than many other OECD countries in attracting and keeping men in secondary school teaching, but we cannot afford to be complacent about the future in terms of attracting anyone into teaching.

The good news is that the United Kingdom has a relatively young teaching force. This should be helpful in ensuring a stream of future leaders for the schools unless wastage removes the brightest and best into other jobs, an issue not discussed by the OECD.

The teaching workforce in the United Kingdom has become younger since 2005 and is now the youngest among all OECD countries in primary education and the second youngest after Turkey in lower secondary education. In primary schools, 31% of teachers are aged 30 or younger, compared to the OECD average of 12%.  

However, there is a risk with so many young workers of a loss of a proportion of teachers to caring responsibilities.

OECD acknowledge the relatively poor starting pay for teachers – this was before the current 3.5% increase in England.

When bonuses and allowances are included, the average actual salaries of lower secondary teachers in England and Scotland are lower than the average earnings of tertiary-educated workers, as in most countries. However, this relative earnings gap is slightly higher than the OECD average.

However, the OECD notes that after 15 years experience (sic), teachers’ salaries have increased considerably, and exceed the OECD average across all levels of education except upper secondary education in both England and Scotland. However, salary progression slows down after 15 years of experience, resulting in top of scale salaries that lag behind those in other OECD countries. It is not clear whether this also applies to salaries of school leaders.

In terms of school autonomy, I find the following statement difficult to understand.

The United Kingdom is among the few countries where local authorities are the main initial source of funds as well as the main final purchasers of educational services. In the United Kingdom, local authorities generate and spend 55% of education funds in primary, secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.

Since local authorities don’t have a vote on Schools Forum and there is a move to a National Funding formula, this paragraph might need reconsidering in future versions of the publication.

Overall, OECD remain positive of the benefits of education to individuals and society as a whole.

 

 

International Study on school funding by OECD

The DfE has a new benchmark by which to assess the National Funding Formula for Schools. The OECD has just published a thematic review of school funding ‘The Funding of School Education: Connecting Resources and Learning’. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264276147-en

This is an ambitious report into the issues relating to funding schools across just under 20 of the economies that make up the OECD block. In one sense the issues raised here aren’t new. Funding, and the relationship between funding and the aims of an education system, has always been a matter for debate. Indeed, ever since the governments first became involved in funding education, the key questions around how and to whom have never been far from the surface of political debate. At the most basic level, this is characterised by two of the issues discussed in the OECD report. How much funding is raised locally and where that isn’t sufficient how is it topped up, and secondly, how is the success of any funding model measured and what happens when schools fall short of successful outcomes? This includes the debate about what is meant by equality and equal opportunities. Providing every learner with the same opportunity is not the same as providing them with the same funding as something as simple as the payment of a London salary weighting in England clearly demonstrated well before the notion of Pupil and Service Children Premiums were ever considered. Finally, there is the issue of the governance, where those that raise the money often don’t actually spend it on education. This involves the quality and quantity of data necessary for this task to be effective without overwhelming the system.

The OECD Review notes that as school systems have become more complex and characterised by multi-level governance, a growing set of actors including different levels of the school administration, schools themselves and private providers are involved in school funding in many OECD countries.

The Review notes that :

While on average across OECD countries, central governments continue to provide the majority of financial resources for schools, the responsibility for spending these funds is shared among an increasingly wide range of actors. In many countries, the governance of school funding is characterised by increasing fiscal decentralisation, considerable responsibility of schools over budgetary matters and growing public funding of private school providers. These developments generate new opportunities and challenges for school funding policies and need to be accompanied by adequate institutional arrangements.

The OCED authors consider that to ‘support effective school funding and avoid adverse effects on equity in changing governance contexts, funding reforms should seek to: ensure that roles and responsibilities in decentralised funding systems are well aligned; provide the necessary conditions for effective budget management at the school level; and develop adequate regulatory frameworks for the public funding of private providers.’

It is disappointing that the home nations don’t form part of the review group of nations, although reference to issues and the literature arising from the Uk are to be found throughout the document, if the reader knows where to look., including  Dolton and Marcenaro-Gutierrez 2011 article in the journal Economic Policy, “If you pay peanuts do you get monkeys?

While this Review will be a mine of information to scholars researching the issue of funding, always recognising that some decisions are context bound and that, for instance, more rural economies may have different priorities than more urban and mixed economies, where the needs of the two groups compete with each other.

It is to be hoped that work will be undertaken to consider the differing actions of the four home nations with respect to funding against the issues raised in this review: the outcomes might be very illuminating.