The way and the speed in which children are learning is changing: but few are talking about it.

Given the changes that are happening in our society and which affect children from the earliest days, it is not surprising that their responses towards reading, learning, and indeed education are changing.

To give but one example, there has been an eight per cent rise in health visitors’ reports of children with delayed language in the last year, according to the Institute of Health Visiting.

Indeed the Institute reported that in 2016 72% of health visitors said they had found an increase in the number of children with delayed speech and communication development.

After years of campaigning the government in England has finally agreed this is one fight it doesn’t have to win.

I suppose the lesson ultimately is that when one is under attack on every front in relation to education - the funding cuts, the failure of some Free Schools to attract both children and staff, the corrupt practices scandals in some academies, and rapidly falling number of teachers at a time of huge rises in the numbers of pupils and students - then something has to give.

And the first thing to give was revealed last week: sex education.

From the moment the government’s “guidance” on sex education was published in 2000 it came under attack as “hopelessly inadequate” for the modern world.  And that was in 2000 when the level of cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, grooming, and abuse on line was running at about 0.001% of present levels.

In December last year the government published a document headed “How schools are going to make £3bn worth of efficiency savings, and the opportunity this brings”

The Education Secretary Justine Greening said that “Funding every child fairly and according to their specific needs sits at the heart of delivering the government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

“The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, but the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. It is based on patchy and inconsistent decisions that have built up over many years and on data that is over a decade old. This outmoded system allows similar schools with similar students to receive levels of funding so different that it puts many young people at an educational disadvantage.

Schools are starting to become very inventive in terms of how they use their share of the £85.2bn annual budget

When I first wrote about the “education market” in the 1980s, the total budget for schools was £35bn per year.  Now it is £85bn which, even allowing for inflation, is a massive increase.

So when we hear about “cuts” in the school budget, we need to have  a sense of proportion. And we also need to be conscious of the level of change that is happening.

A lot of the growth in money made available to schools in the past was spent on teachers.  But since the 1980s methods of teaching and learning have changed so radically that the percentage spent on teachers is declining. But fewer teachers in schools does not necessarily mean a problem; indeed it does release large amounts of money for other uses.

A number of academies have been found to be engaged in serious financial impropriety.  What can we do about it?

Last month the government found the Perry Beeches academy in Birmingham guilty of serious financial impropriety having used a company to undertake a health and safety audit which was run by the wife of a member of the committee that awarded the business contract.

According to the Guardian, “This is not a unique case. Across the country, academies have been plagued by allegations of financial impropriety, conflicts of interest and even corruption.”

Academies, being outside Local Authority control, take care of their own financial management and their own accountability. Yet it seems this independence has resulted in things going rather awry in some cases.

How we think of schools is influenced by our experiences.  But they may not reflect what is happening now.

From time to time the Guardian newspaper runs a “Secret Teacher” column in which an anonymous teacher writes of what life in school is really like at the moment.

One article in the series comes from a school that is obsessed by the image it presents.  It is portrayed rather like a retailer with a gleaming shopfront showing beautifully presented goods while out back illegal immigrants are forced to work 18 hours a day for 10% of the minimum wage producing fifth rate products that bear no relation to what’s shown in the display window.

Here’s a short extract from the piece…

“I’ve witnessed pupils’ work ripped up in front of their eyes, and criticised in front of the whole school. Teachers are warned to keep students well away from learning resources, should they end up looking worn for the visitors. Staff have even been asked to impersonate children’s work. Much like a show home, most of what you see is there for exhibition.

What is the one mistake that most companies advertising to schools make, and which is easy to rectify?

One of the most effective ways to make email advertising to schools work is to extol the benefits of the product or service on the email, and then provide a link to the features of what you offer on your web page.

With such a system one can easily undertake an analysis of how many people opened the email, how many clicked through to the web page, and how many then either phoned or went straight on to buy the product or service via the website.

When such analyses are done what one finds is that the most common problem arises at the web page.  Lots of teachers look at the email, and a fair number then click through to the web page, but the number placing an order is very modest.

Why it is wrong to accept the popular notion that the arts are being pushed out of schools

A study by the New Schools Network has caused many to rethink the notion that the arts are in serious decline in UK schools and that no money is being spent on them.  

The argument throughout has been that the government’s requirement for schools to get students through GCSEs in specific knowledge based subjects, rather than creative subjects, means schools have followed this path.

But while some school managements do seem to follow government diktat in a slavish manner, many others don’t take this attitude at all.  And indeed the highly successful revolt by many LA schools against enforced academisation, and the continuing failure of parts of the Free School programme, seem to have emboldened many.

Why it is rarely a good idea to single out free schools or academies when advertising to teachers.

When Free Schools were introduced into England, the model that was used was that of Sweden, with Michael Gove proudly pronouncing that “We have seen the future in Sweden and it works.”   Later he added, “They’ve done something amazing.  They challenged the conventional wisdom and decided that it was parents, not bureaucrats, who should be in charge.”

The Secretary of State also made much of the fact that the Swedish government that set up the programme had a government that was “far to the left of Britain”.

Avoid telling teachers what you sell and instead show them their relevance to the current school situation.

I have long been advocating the view that the current changes in school budgets don’t mean that schools will buy fewer products, but rather that they will cut the number of teachers (by far their biggest expense), enlarge classes, and start using other means of teaching.

Further, my argument is that this won’t mean redundancies, but rather will mean simply not replacing staff who leave and abandoning attempts to recruit when applicant levels are low to non-existent.

Recently, articles online and in the press have started to concur with this analysis, and the London Councils’ submission to the DfE’s consultation says, “As around 70% of a school’s budget is spent on staff salaries, funding reductions are likely to result in fewer teachers and support staff posts in schools, as well as increased class sizes.”

The latest fad can help sell products, but long term usage comes from getting the teachers to share your belief.

Last year the UK went down a place in international maths rankings. This followed the Daily Telegraph’s campaign the year before to “tackle Britain's growing problem with numeracy skills, where” (the paper claimed) “seven million adults cannot grasp basic mathematics”.

Last year the OECD report rated English teenagers aged 16 to 19 the worst of 23 developed nations in literacy and only slightly better in numeracy.

Many people have had a go at solving what is perceived as the British maths crisis, the British literacy crisis, the British IT crisis, the British science crisis… in fact when it comes down to it we seem to have a crisis in most subjects, except the creative arts (achievement in which the government tends not to notice).