Have the government finally planted that ‘magic’ money tree or is this a ploy to win back voters after the Brexit debacle?
What’s the story?
Rumours are spiralling that the government are looking to pledge £14billion into education with starting teacher salaries beginning at £30k. So it appears that the government have finally began to listen to their thinktanks, namely, the International Fiscal Studies & the Sutton Trust. Both organisations have extensively cited that the £7billion worth of funding cuts since 2011 do need amending. Some welcome this & would even see it as a victory, others would suggest that this is a smokescreen for Brexit, a scenario whereby the nation remains at stalemate. One thing that politicians remain in agreement about is education and it being is seen as the ‘great equaliser’ for society’s evils.
“I thought we had no money”
This is a feeling for many of us. We’ve heard, on demand, on repeat, how Britain has an enormous budget deficit. Some astronomical figure of £100+ billion. I’m not an Economist but, at the time, reducing national debt was prioritised over pledges to abolish child poverty by 2020, or to ensure 50% of young people attended university. Cuts to the NHS, to schools and to all public services to drag us out of further economic hardship. It’s all a bit mad ey? The governing bailed out the banks (£141billion it is lead to believe) & in 2019, a magic money tree appears.
Can Education compensate for society?
I remember reading that the government wanted to see truly world-class educational practices. They sent delegates all across the world. To the South-East, to the United States & importantly for us & the corresponding changes to the UK, to the Scandinavian nations.
Since the turn of 2010, policies such as performance related pay, Free Schools & Pupil Premium have all be ‘cherry-picked’ & brought to the UK from other countries. And no, to anyone reading thinking that these were all Michael Gove’s original ideas. That’s is just not true. The government even used international testing scores through PISA to suggest how incredibly enhanced other nations are & how much we needed to focus on standards back at home. I won’t go into the logistics of policies, strong personal emotions to accountability measures may skew this article.
Yet, like a class you are accountable for, measuring the outcomes cannot be done without context. Contextually, our net spend on education here in the UK is one of the world highest. So why aren’t we top of the charts? Top of the Pops?! Answer: Context. The Scandinavian nations have better welfare states (we’ve cut back on ours since the Thatcher days), they have less socio-economic inequalities between their citizens & more per capita. Throwing money at the problem just isn’t the solution. With the cost of living rising, more money, more problems?
On paper all the nations with prospering education systems look fab but delving into their cultures, traditions, wellbeing, social & economic climates, even parenting & pedagogical structures, context is everything. Like comparing apples to pears. Context is still ignored making any comparisons utterly ridiculous.
Surely then, the government should be focused on creating a more equal & socially just society? Or am I just being far too idealistic.
£30k for an NQT?
Proposals to make starting salaries of teachers £6k heavier are indeed part of the mystique of our magic money tree. This is incredible because, at the very infancy of your teaching career, it can feel like very little financial reward for the commitment required. Yes, I know, we don’t do it for the money! But as a former colleague once said “memories, nostalgia, worksheets & inspiration don’t pay the bills”.
What’s the issue then? £30k is a good salary and to some extent matches other graduate based positions. Recruitment of teachers is sliding, as is retention. Both definitely require a discerning eye. But is more money going to ‘fix’ the problems of teaching in the UK? What are the issues?
• Work-life balance,
• Toxic cultures,
• Pressures for results,
I could go on. Will paying a higher salary make these issues simply vanish? No. Workload needs managing through less teaching & more time to plan. A work-life balance comes through NOT having to do overtime that impedes personal commitments. Wellbeing is about ensuring staff feel better supported not better paid. Ofsted inspections aren’t going to go away. Toxic cultures which I have written about stem from accountability measures that are deemed as ‘life or death’.
All of these issues facing teachers need addressing. Pooling more money into the system will have little impact if teachers are leaving at the current rate they are.
Famous Sociologist Basil Bernstein once said “Education cannot compensate for society “. Thus, better funding (as with Labour under Blair/Brown) or focus on standards (2010-present) will have limited impact because of the inequalities in society that permeate into schools. The same inequalities that create divisions between students in terms of educational outcomes & progress. Just looking at Free School Meals data & attainment, you’ll see an imbalance.
What can be done?
Funding is absolutely necessary. Absolutely. Hearing of schools with broken facilities & leaks in roofs, this is just unacceptable. When magic money trees are destroyed by climate change & careless people lighting wooded areas & Brexit… what money will be left to increase funding in education? The true magic money tree is the one being used to fund Brexit, £73billion & rising.
But where this funding is going needs to be on the minds of all those related to education. Are we going to open another multi-million pound Free School or build an IPad into every desk? Or pay teachers more? But I truly believe that listening to Educationalists is worth more than any magic money tree ever planted.
Thank you for reading.