Friday 8 December 2006

Real Investment in Education Needed not Spin on Economic Statistics

Pre budget statements are begining to go the same way as Budget statements. When they are announced in Parliament they sound really impressive. Who cannot but applaud massive extra spending on education? The problem is that increasingly the golden glow rarely lasts longer than a few days. This time it has barely lasted 24 hours.

The assessment of the Chancellor's announcement of increased education spending by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies is devastating. The IFS described the claim of £36 billion of new spending on education as "misleading" as most of it has already been announced and is just recyled money. In the Guardian's economics section the IFS is quoted as saying "Of the £200 per pupil he announced he is sending to schools in three months time, only £20 is new." Investment in education which has averaged 16.3% a year since 1997 is now to fall to 4.9% a year for the next five years.

Questions are now being asked about the macro management of the economy under Gordon Brown's watch. Adherrence of the Tory's public expenditure plans for the first years after Labour was elected is now revealed as a major error, holding back unecessarily the much needed programme of investment in public services and delaying the visible impact of any consequent service improvements.

As we enter a period of restraint on public spending the Government is increasingly looking to savings from supposed increased productivity in Government departments, largely from cutting staff whilst claiming that this is all about shifting resources to front line services. In reality what public sector workers and the recipients of their services are experiencing are straightforward old fashioned cuts. So now questions are being asked about the Government's competence at micro management of departments and policies.

A good example is the Chancellor's management of his own department, the Treasury. In 2006 the Treasury is aiming to save £105 million through job cuts in Customs and Revenue but has spent £106 million on external consultants to achieve it. It is estimated that thanks to job cuts in the Inland Revenue's ten largest tax processing offices there are one million unopened items of post.

If we really wanted to have an impact on educational standards it would be worth looking at David Drever's proposals in "The Red Paper on Scotland." David points to the incontrovertible research evidence that closely links significant increases in educational achievement with decreases in class size. The Tennessee STAR programme found that all pupils benefited from reduced class size but that disadvantaged children entering school with low initial attainment were the biggest winners. London University confirmed these results in their own research as did the OECD international surveys.

So if we are to give all our children the best start in life and if our aim is to match the levels of expenditure in public schools my view is that we should support the call pioneered by the Educational Institute for Scotland for a reduction in all class sizes to no more than 20 pupils. A simple demand but a significant step forward for equality in education and a real investment in education rather than spinning investment statistics.