Dead Men Left

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Education, educashun, eddykshn

After briefly touching on the issue earlier, how kind of Blair to propose another set of pressures to apply to the "lowest achieving" schools. In addition to the underinvestment/league table regime, the government now intends to introduce the excitement of the market in a more direct fashion, through the creation of independent colleges, maintained by government grant. Underlying all this is the same peculiar assumption as motivates top-up fees: that by leaning on the weakest and most vulnerable part of the system improvements can be delivered. With top-up fees, it is individual students that will mysteriously deliver both increased funding and improved quality; with the "radical" education "reforms", it is individual schools - and even (via Ofsted) individual teachers - that are expected to deliver quality improvements through "competition". There will be winners and losers, or as Blair in his euphemistic manner stated:

...there will "always be schools that are good and those that are less good"...

There may be no great objection in choosing between "good" and "less good" loaves of bread, or used cars, or whatever; but we are now talking about one of the key determinants of someone's entire future. That in itself is reason enough to demand that crude competitive pressures - or, in some ways worse yet, bureaucratic simulations of crude competitive pressures - are not used to determine educational outcomes.

Elementary logic is turned on its head; whatever proclivities individual schools may have, they clearly count for very little beside the systemic biases in education funding that the government now wishes to reinforce. A recent issue of Fiscal Studies (vol 23:3, Sep 2002) made the pattern quite plain: whilst between 1960 and Thatcher's arrival, capital funding in secondary education broadly followed pupil numbers (rising with increased students, falling with decreased), Thatcher and then Major broke this pattern: funding declined whilst enrolled numbers rose, decreasing funding per student. Blair has significantly failed to reverse this trend, instead relying on the same fallacious Tory rhetoric of "choice" to gloss over pervasive underinvestment and local pools of chronic decline.

The man responsible for schools in the UK summed up the likely impact of the proposals rather well, so I leave the last word to him:

Earlier today at a hearing of a committee of MPs, the education secretary, Charles Clarke, claimed that the academies would act as "bazookas" where schools were failing.