Equal not fair: the new direction for education?

So Boris wants a ‘superb’ education for all children. His recipe for achieving this is to offer all primary and secondary schools the same cash amount per pupil of some £5,000. No mention of special education, further education or indeed higher education in that part of his speech.

As this blog has recorded in the past, post-16 and further education is seriously in need of a cash injection, probably even more than the schools sector. Although secondary schools will benefit from more cash for their Key Stage 3 & 4 pupils under Boris’s idea, this won’t help fully fund sixth forms and will leave further education colleges still drifting towards financial meltdown in some cases.

What is the future for the High Needs Block of funding and a ‘superb’ education for all our pupils with special educational needs? I guess much will depend upon how Mr Williamson, as the incoming Secretary of State for Education, interprets the words of his boss? Personally, I hope he reminds Boris that Eton doesn’t charge the same fees as many other private schools and asks whether he believes that what is right for public education should be applied to private schooling as well?

More seriously, the idea of the same cash for all is based upon a very simplistic notion of education, where equal means ‘the same’. In 2002, I wrote a paper for the Liberal Democrats espousing the ‘compensatory principle’. This is based upon funding the needs of a child to reach the outcome levels desired by the system: some children need more resources to achieve the desired outcome than others.

Such a principle recognises the need for additional funding for both specific children and particular areas within local government boundaries. The Coalition introduced the Pupil Premium to recognise this need, and the Mrs May’s government created additionally funded ‘Opportunity Areas’. What happens to these modification of £5,000 for all will be a real test of the values of this government.

Extensive research shows all children do not arrive at school with the same degree of development, whatever their innate capabilities. The system should recognise that fact and take it into account in funding. Furthermore, if the State mandates the same funding for all schools, should it allow schools in more affluent areas to top-up the State grant and once again create a funding differential?

The teacher associations have calculated that the headline £5,000 for all is relatively cheap to implement, costing only about £50 million a year according to the BBC. However, to restore funding levels to where the teacher associations would like them to be might cost close to £13 Billion rather than a few million pounds. Such a sum, even without the demands of the further education sector, is a different order of magnitude.

Sadly, for a Prime minister that likes headlines, the £5,000 is a good headline figure and seems like a lot of money: these days it isn’t. How schools are treated will reveal the true values off the new government.

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Not a bribe, but a gift or Scholarship?

It is difficult to know what to call the payments to teachers of mathematics and physics in parts of the north of England and the Opportunity Areas, announced by the DfE today. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-mathematics-and-physics-teacher-retention-payments

As the DfE make clear in their announcements, these payments are neither part of a teacher’s salary nor an allowance, as they don’t require either the teacher receiving the cash or the employer to pay either National Insurance or tax and presumably are not part of pensionable pay. I am not sure how HM Treasury regards this handout that has similar characteristics to the bounty paid to reservists with the forces.

Paying someone just for teaching specific subjects in particular geographical areas might have unintended consequences. There are some great schools in Harrogate, one of the areas included in the scheme, and I haven’t noticed that the schools in that area have any more challenges recruiting that do schools in London boroughs, so might we see a flight from London to teach mathematics in the Yorkshire Dales and Wolds. Interestingly, the Lake District and deprived Cumbrian Coast is not included in the list of qualifying local authorities. Surely an oversight?

This scheme looks like a blunter form of the Mrs Thatcher’s Schools of Exceptional Difficulty payments of the early 1970s, although that cash went to all teachers in the qualifying schools, but not to other staff.

How biologist and chemists teaching physics at Key Stage 3 will feel about this payment that they won’t receive unless they have the appropriate academic qualification in the subject, even if they have undertaken considerable professional development, is, no doubt, something the teacher associations will have to discuss with their members. Such teachers cannot just stop teaching physics, since head teachers can require staff to teach any subject where timetabling or other reasons require them to do so.

Making this announcement on EU election day does make it seem a bit like a Jo Moore story, one to be buried in the middle of a lot of announcements on a busy news day – the announcements were 12th and 13th down the list issued by the DfE this morning, although The Times newspaper, did carry the story today, so presumably the press was forewarned.

By not making this a salary supplement, the DfE presumably hopes to head off the question of equal pay for work of equal worth from other teachers working alongside the lucky recipients. I suspect head teachers will also want to ensure they can claim for these payments and not have to pay out of existing budgets. There was no mention in either of the government announcements about the mechanics of the scheme other than the statement that ‘details about the application process and the first year payment process will be available soon.’

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk will monitor trends in vacancies for teachers of physics and mathematics and report any changes seen. However, the way the scheme will be organised it should not have much immediate impact on the labour market.