There was an interesting slot on the BBC’s Today Programme just before 0800 this morning. The Presenter plus a head teacher of an Oxfordshire Secondary School and the education researcher from Policy Exchange, the right leaning think tank, exchanged words about the state of school funding. This sort of early morning interview ritual on that programme follows set lines, two interviewees with different perspectives on the same matter and an interviewer introducing the issue and setting a hare running. When verbal exchanges are either too intense or nothing happens, the interviewer will step in and act accordingly, otherwise the two interviewees trade words.
Not surprisingly, this morning, the head teacher was full of woe about the state of funding, especially in Oxfordshire and the researcher thought either everything should be rosy or if that wasn’t the case it was all the fault of schools for employing too many staff; paying them too much or not belonging to a multi-academy trust that could produce economies of scale for back office costs. I am sure this last point had many listeners chucking over their lessons plans or marking that excessive workloads force them to undertake, even at that early hour of a Saturday morning.
Frankly, the level of exchange was disappointing for those that probably know better, but live radio is, and especially on a show such as the Today Programme, where you need to make your point in headline terms if it is to have any impact, a challenging experience, as I know from the couple of times I have taken part in such discussions over the years. On this occasion the head teacher had the better of the exchanges in my view
As I reported in my last post, ‘Thin Gruel’, schools were never likely to do well out of the budget and the two protagonists skirted about the issue of what effect any rise in pay that was not properly funded would have on school budgets by next September and especially in 2019. The strongest point schools have in the funding debate: falling interest in teaching as a career and levels of exit from the profession that are not as low as they were a few years ago should have been centre stage. As it wasn’t the Policy Exchange researcher never really had to address the macroeconomic point about paying more to boost the supply of teachers and what might need to be cut to find the cash? The head was probably too polite to point out the £800 million going to support students in higher education might have been as well used in schools and early years. However, as I pointed out in the previous post, this cash was needed to deal with the political fight between Labour and the conservatives for the undergraduate vote.
What is needed now is some research looking forward at school budgets for the next three to four years and identifying how many schools will be in deficit budgets by then unless action is taken. The government should then be firmly asked for a list of where cuts should be made. The electorate will then decide and schools that followed the government’s advice will know where to send complaining parents.