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.
Of course, some schools automatically reject any notion of fewer teachers, arguing that you can’t have teaching without teachers. But their resistance to the reality of change is being thwarted by a second factor - a shortage of teachers. Put another way - you can’t recruit teachers when no one is applying.
In essence we have a multiplicity of issues all pointing to a changed future in education:
- Government cuts on the money it is willing to put into schools
- Government spending focussed on free schools, which are often not full, at the expense of LA schools which are cramped
- A growth in the school age population
- Teacher shortages.
Indeed just last week the chair of Parliament’s Education Committee warned that recruitment had reached 'critical' and can only get worse as the secondary-school age population is set to reach three million by 2020.
I think it is fair to say that there is no government plan to meet this combination of factors. Especially since the student numbers in secondary schools will not reach their highest point until 2025 when there will be 3.3 million secondary school students.
But, as everyone in business knows, when you reach such a situation there is only one solution: radical rethinking. Especially when Neil Carmichael, chair of the Education Select Committee, said, “Key subjects, including technology and sciences, are being neglected. If we are gearing towards high-skill, knowledge-based economy, how are we going to do that without enough teachers in place?”
Official government statistics reveal that the number of full-time teachers in secondary schools fell by 10,000 between 2010 and 2015, the latest year for which figures are available and that drop is accelerating rapidly. Meanwhile teachers are becoming ever more agitated about “unmanageable workloads.”
The committee’s report says the Government lacks a long-term plan to address teacher shortages, fails to meet teacher recruitment targets and has no plan in place to improve teacher retention. We might add to this that there is no plan on handling the increased numbers either.
Interestingly what the government has done is abandon its immigration policy in relation to teacher recruitment. The areas already in crisis are maths, physics, computer science, and then other areas of science. D&T only reached 41% of its recruitment target this academic year.
“The Public Accounts Committee and now the Education Select Committee have both warned that ministers have no clear plan to address these issues and that the Government’s analysis of current and future teacher supply needs is seriously flawed,” said Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT.
Now, of course, one response to this is to say, “we can’t sell to schools any more, they don’t have the money” but there is an alternative view. Parental demand for better education and higher standards will continue to grow and schools need a response. We, the suppliers, have to offer that response.
Which brings us back to the point I have made before. With no clear direction at all from the government, schools are having to sort out their own solutions - and some of these are going to be quite radical.
Anything that helps overcome the crisis - particularly in terms of automated systems which reduce the dependence on teachers, or which allow larger groups of pupils or students to be taught together - is bound to be welcomed. As will resources that can be reused - such as books supplied as copiable digital downloads rather than hard copies.
Schools vary in how they handle their money as shown by the fact that secondaries tend to receive between £5,000 and £10,000 per pupil per year, primaries between £4,000 and £9,000. That is a lot of money - most of which was previously automatically allocated to paying teachers. But if the teachers just aren’t there, that money becomes available for other uses - such as buying equipment and facilities.