Ministers won’t give schools more money until they are visibly falling apart

Schools are up to their eyeballs in debt. Last year, one in four local authority schools and half of academies spent more than they received in funding. Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week writes in The Guardian.

The government points to the £4bn in some schools’ reserves as a sign there’s enough cash to keep going. But even if we could spread this around, it’s still only £180,000 per school. As one headteacher put it, that will keep the wolves from the door for one year. By 2020, much of the system will be broke.

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.

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.

Read the full article Ministers won’t give schools more money until they are visibly falling apart

Should schools be shouting louder? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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