Monday 26 April 2010

The real question for Gove: where will the axe fall?

The Conservative leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, is absolutely right to worry about the funding for his party’s free schools policy. The truth is that it there is a black hole at the heart of both this policy and the party’s commitment to a pupil premium. And every time he is asked to fill it, the shadow schools secretary Michael Gove manages to dodge the question.

John Humphrys once again generated plenty of heat, but little forensic light, when he quizzed Gove on the Today programme this morning. By focusing on the principle of free schools – which are different only in potential scale to Labour’s academies programme and parent-led schools already running – he allowed Gove to skirt the practicalities of how they will be afforded. And he didn't even ask Gove how he plans to pay for a pupil premium that the Liberal Democrats have, probably conservatively, costed at £2.5 billion a year in their own programme.

There are plenty of Tories in local government who question the principle of free schools, among them the Birmingham education chair. But Carter seems to recognise that free schools won’t be free to the taxpayer. Because they will require surplus places in other schools at a time of falling rolls, they will cost at least £1 billion a year in revenue costs over and above their capital costs. And Gove has already made clear that he will raid the Building Schools for the Future budget to pay capital costs (something the Swedish schools wisely do not provide). So, with the pupil premium, the real question for the Tories is this: where will the £3.5 billion come from?

And if you say, as Gove does this morning, that it will come from waste in the DCSF budget, which programmes will be cut to cover that sum? Gove claimed on Today that 'only £32m' of the £62m resource budget for DCSF went to schools, implying the rest was used wastefully. Well a look at Annex A in the DCSF Departmental Report.

It is true this includes money for programmes like the National Challenge or for teacher recruitment and training, but much of this programme money is used directly in schools. Again they should be told which ones are to go. An additional £1.7 billon goes to early years and childcare, which Gove erroneously included in the schools budget. £11 billion goes on teachers' pensions, which may be a target for cuts, but shouldn't teachers be told? Nearly £6 billion is spent on education maintenance allowances and other youth services. Again, a probable target but shouldn't we be told? And £1.5 billion goes on safeguarding, careers advice and parenting programmes described as 'support for children and families'. Perhaps this is to be cut, but shouldn't we be told? It is time for Gove to spell out where his axe is most likely to fall.

This posting has been picked up on Left Foot Forward, New Statesman, Stumbling and Mumbling and Hopi Sen.


Anonymous said...

It will fall on schools like my 3 local ones who for the last 30 years of all our money has not managed to achive more that 40% pass rate 5 A-C i.e 60 % fail on the basics every year

The money is not the 'right' of the school/LEA but the 'right of the pupil'to be spent on providing the best education for them.

What a joke to support the status quo.

Last point, out of the 450 groups wanting to start over 200 are 'teacher led'. Its just a matter of time before we see quality ex-LEA also joining in.

The Gove/Wolf revolution is not so much inspiring as for the parent groups but from 'insiders within'
i.e. the teachers.


Conor Ryan said...

I'm afraid, Anonymous (why can't people say who they are?) that won't do. The closure of other schools (and before 1997, half of all schools got less than 30% five good GCSEs)won't fund the immediate costs of the new schools. This will require extra up-front funding: I'm certainly not against more academies and parent or teacher-led schools - on the contrary - I just want to know where the money is coming from! And you should be asking the same question.

Anonymous said...

Posted by "Fat Bloke on Tour" who cannot get Blogger to work.


Got to your article by way of Hopi Sen, consequently here are my issues on the topic and would invite feedback.

First up I will re-cycle my joke, the "Free" school idea is the the Inclosure Act meets education where the pushy, the driven and the rich will parcel up a common resource and turn it into islands of exclusiveness and privilege.

My main point is what is to stop these schools asking for top-up fees?

If this question has been asked and Gove has ruled it out why are these schools not "free" to set their own rules of entry?

I see this idea as appealing to the growing mindset that wants increased resources for "their" own public services but does not want to pay for improvements in the services that will be open to others.

Low tax rates, low rent public services but with the option of a co-pay or top-up to provide better standards for the individual.

If they get it accepted for schools, health will be next.

Finally the nightmare scenario on this issue would be "cashback" where parents who don't care send their children to the "Gradgrind Academy". The children then mail bags in the afternoon to keep the costs down and the parents get half the state funding returned to them.

Again the libertarion mindset will ask why not, it is after all about choice.

Unknown said...

Gove should read more Jonathan Swift...