Ministers won’t give schools more money , the reason is ..

The Guardian has today published an opinion piece by education commentator Laura McInerney focusing on school debt and funding.

The piece states that ‘schools are up to their eyeballs in debt’, with one in four local authority schools and half of academies spending more than they received in funding last year.

It is very important to note that a school spending more than its income in any one year does not necessarily mean they are in debt, as schools may for example draw on their funding reserves in a particular year to spend on capital projects.

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, will no doubt point to the “additional” £1.3bn promised after last year’s election. But this will come from savings elsewhere, much of which the Department for Education admits it hasn’t even yet identified. One bit we do know is that about half a billion will be taken from school buildings. So, hurray, schools may be able to remain open past 2020, but it’ll be touch-and-go as to whether or not they’ll have a roof.

A comment last week by the former chancellor George Osborne at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, should make us all sit up and think. Asked what a UK chancellor would need to see to believe schools required more cash, he replied that it would take a “very marked and rapid deterioration in standards”. Teacher strikes don’t work because the government doesn’t want to give in to industrial unrest; neither do “esoteric debates” (his words) about what happens in other countries.

Osborne’s answer shows how cold and clinical such decisions are for politicians – and how far removed from reality. If a child now can’t get mental health support until they actually attempt suicide, rather than just suggest they might, is that a big enough decline in standards to warrant cash? What if one teaching assistant can no longer help children learn their numbers because they’re covering the toileting duties of several special needs pupils – is that worth a few quid? Or must hundreds of assistants be in this position? Thousands?

Given that schools must compete for children, it’s not in a headteacher’s interest to make much noise about lost services, as it could make their school appear less attractive. But Osborne’s answer shows why they must. Only when schools start moving to four-day weeks because they can’t pay their utility bills will politicians sit up and notice.

Osborne also said the UK hasn’t sufficiently “embraced” technology to enable it to make schools more efficient. This line keeps popping up from ministers, and it’s worth keeping an eye on. Companies across the UK are developing chatbots, artificial intelligence platforms and holographic teachers (I kid you not) with a promise their products will teach children more effectively and cheaply. If they can pull it off, it’s a Conservative chancellor’s dream.

Parents may not love robo-teachers, but if the results are as good as the tech suggests (and several of the programmes are impressive), they will get over it. And even if the results are not so good, the government may still want to sell it as the only solution to avoid schools going bankrupt and a teacher shortage.

So what do you think?

Tell us in the comments.

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