Profitable education

Where do we draw the line at making money out of state funded education? This is a topic this blog has considered before, and a return visit has been promoted by a new pamphlet from the TUC. file:///C:/Users/John/Downloads/14.03.14%20Education_Not_For_Sale_Repor_Report%20(1).pdf   Written jointly by a union employee and an education journalist who spent part of his career at the Times Educational Supplement it is entitled ‘Education not for sale’.

The authors acknowledge that schools and colleges have always bought goods and services from the profit-making private sector. In the case of schools, they say that until the early 1990s local authorities acted as purchasing agents, increasing purchasing power and providing contract compliance expertise; but they maintain that there is a clear distinction between selling rulers and roofs, on the one hand, and core professional duties of teaching and leadership, on the other. The authors of this report find that this boundary is being crossed, with the clear possibility of the flow becoming a flood. I wonder with the recent announcements from the Labour Party front bench at Westminster, whether there must be a concern that nothing will change after the next election whoever forms the government.

My view is that profit, or a surplus made by a not-for-profit organisation, must not reduce the purpose of spending the largest amount possible on education outcomes that secure maximum performance and learning for those being educated. But, it is not an easy task to disentangle where the boundaries are. However, by accepting rules and roofs as legitimate, but not teachers and leaders, the authors of the pamphlet have made clear their dividing line

I agree with the Public Accounts Committee that procurement by government at all levels has been far too amateur a process, and small local firms often don’t get a look in. I do think that under the funding expansion of the Labour government large firms often saw government contracts as a route to riches, and the authors of the pamphlet might have had more to say on both Labour’s PFI schemes as well as their establishment of the academy programme. They also don’t seem to have noticed Paul Marshall’s links to the Lib Dems when considering the DfE Board. Sadly, the big is beautiful in business seems to have been one policy carried over from Labour into the coalition.

For me, as I think for the pamphlet’s authors, an interesting issue remains the pay of workers in schools, whether they are leaders or casual part-time employees delivering the vital services that keep a school functioning. Perhaps because I have never earned more a middling income at any point in my life, I wonder about the ethics of the widening differentials between those earning the least and those who are earning the most. Supply and demand plus a return on human investment by individuals, have both undoubtedly played a part in deciding salary levels, as does the reward for risk. Where I invest in a risky new business I expect a greater return because some of my investments will go bust. Companies on secure contracts should receive a reverse premium that factors in the security of the contract. But alongside the economic strictures, in public service there must surely be a duty on all who purchase goods and services to ensure that profit or surplus isn’t being created by the refusal to pay some  workers a ‘fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.  The position of trade unions is probably just as complicated, unless you accept that their sole duty is to fight for the best deal for their members. .

I recently looked at the 1961 pay settlement for teachers. That year, the head teacher of the largest school could earn less than three times the salary of a new entrant to the profession.  What, I wonder should that differential be now?

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