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“Every time that the headteacher, or the director of children’s services, or the Minister reaches for excuses, such as ‘we’re underresourced’ or ‘I’m afraid the capital this year hasn’t been so good’ … they’re spending time justifying underperformance when they should be spending time challenging underperformance and looking for reasons to perform better.”
Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, October 2011
The schools system is not immune from the need to deliver value for money. Public sector expenditure on primary and secondary education has increased 109 per cent over the last decade (from 31 billion in 2002 to 65 billion in 2011,based on HM Treasury expenditure analyses.The Government has protected the schools budget from real terms cuts in the current Spending Review, but the next Review is almost certain to include real terms cuts given the difficult fiscal outlook. The good news from public services such as policing is that sustained spending pressure is driving reform and innovation. Arguably the protection of the schools and NHS budgets has prevented the kind of debate on value which other services have seen.
Despite the massive investment in school building over the last decade there is an imminent shortage of school places, expected to reach 45,000 by 2015. The old way of meeting demand through lengthy, expensive construction programmes is no longer affordable. Since the abolition of the Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010, the debate has focused on how to build better,cheaper schools at pace.
The Government’s review of school capital expenditure, led by Sebastian James, recommended the adoption of standardised school designs to allow more schools to be delivered at lower cost and greater speed. However, capital spending will need to deliver school buildings that are fit for purpose. As wellas building better and cheaper, schools should also look to new sources to fund future capital investment.
In the last decade the size of the school workforce has grown significantly with little focus given to quality and productivity. There are now 10 per cent more teachers and two-and-a-half times as many teaching assistants as a decade ago. Workforce spending now accounts for 70 per cent of school spending. Value for money cannot be achieved whilst the workforce continues to grow at this rate and schools are restricted by national pay agreements. Even where there is the flexibility to pay good teachers more, schools have been reluctant about deviating from national pay policies. As Reform’s recent survey of academies demonstrated, 60 per cent of schools said the existence of national pay and conditions made it culturally difficult for them to vary pay and conditions in their schools. The key to achieving better value is maximising the quality and capability of teachers rather than increasing the size of the workforce. Pioneering headteachers have started to transform the classroom to get more for less. Leading schools are using technology to improve learning both inside and outside the classroom and incorporating ICT into all aspects of the educational experience. High performing education systems around the world encourage teachers to learn from each other, sharing material, lesson plans and strategies for discipline so best practice is shared across schools.
Today’s conference will explore these issues, and provide further practical examples, from the UK and internationally, of how to achieve better value for money, reduce costs and improve outcomes without additional expenditure.