This week in Parliament the chair of the Education Select Committee asked a very good, very simple question: “So how much money do schools and colleges need?” Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL asks some questions of his own in Tes.
In response, he got a range of answers.
And that tells us something very important – namely that beneath the current debate about education, funding is a far bigger issue: what kind of education service do we wish to provide for our children and young people? What do we think they are entitled to?
On the evening that Robert Halfon’s committee met, we saw on BBC2 a documentary about education that didn’t do what most documentaries about education do. It didn’t trivialise; it didn’t glamorise; it didn’t caricature the pupils or the staff. Instead – in the great tradition of fly-on-the-wall journalism – School allowed viewers to see what life in one school is like, warts and all.
And what we saw was something that those of us who inhabit education’s echo chamber have long known: that schools and colleges do far more than most people probably realise.
These days we don’t just teach children to read, write and learn a few academic subjects, but also provide extensive pastoral support, counselling, SEND support, safeguarding, PSHE, and increasingly fill the gaps left by the depletion of services beyond the school gates.
In recent years, we have seen the erosion of both the funding levels for schools and colleges and vital services in the community. The reality is that we are in danger of being reduced to a core provision of reading, writing and a small range of academic subjects.
The problem with this is not only the dispiriting lack of ambition which is implicit in such a constrained funding model. The really pernicious effect will be on the many young people who desperately need the additional support that schools provide in order to be able to fully access the curriculum and fulfil their potential. It is the most vulnerable learners who are most at risk from the funding cuts.
What I do know is that the underfunding of the education system comes with a huge social cost. Diminished life chances mean more poverty, more physical and mental health problems, more strain on social services, and a weaker economy. Education should be seen as a vital strategic investment, not a cost to be trimmed.
Robert Halfon’s question was a good one: how much money do we need?
But we won’t get anywhere near an answer until as a society we are clearer about what we expect for every child.
Read Geoff Barton’s full article Society needs to decide the kind of education service it is prepared to pay for
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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