Thursday 31 March 2011

More bad news on education

Yet another report on education this week draws attention to the ways in which our education services are failing our children.  Yet another wake-up call according to the Minister.  I wonder, though, about some of the reaction to the stream of reports highlighting the issues. 
It may well be that a reorganisation of the way education is managed will give more strategic leadership to the sector, as well as generating some savings on overheads.  But management reorganisations have a habit of diverting attention from the front line whilst they are in progress, as people manoeuvre for new jobs, and the history of reorganisations in the public sector does not exactly paint a clear picture of effective cost reduction.
There also seems to be some misunderstanding of the so-called ‘funding gap’ between English and Welsh schools, and the impact any reorganisation might have on that.  Clearly, a reduction in ‘overhead costs’, if it really could be achieved, would potentially free up more cash to go direct to schools; but it would not necessarily have any impact on the funding gap.
As the Welsh Government report which identified the size of the gap pointed out, “Education spend per pupil … is not a measure of 'schools' expenditure per pupil as the only way of making a consistent comparison over time with England is to include adult and youth education expenditure and use overall education spend. The reason for calculating education spend per pupil is therefore solely for the purpose of making a comparison with England.”, and “The figures include expenditure on schools services, LA central costs, mandatory student awards, inter-authority education recoupment, nursery schools and adult and youth education”.
So the costs of 22 education departments are already factored into the comparison, and a re-allocation of funds within the education spend will have no impact on the comparison with England.  To reduce the gap means that the total education budget would need to be increased – anyone proposing that in current circumstances needs to spell out which other spending would then be cut to compensate, because there’s certainly not going to be a large pot of extra money available.
I’m still unconvinced about the relationship between ‘spend’ and ‘outcomes’, in any event.  Whilst there ought, intuitively, to be a relationship of some sort, it is not a straight line relationship, as pointed out in comments on a previous post.  The lowest spend per pupil in Wales is in the Vale of Glamorgan, which achieves some of the best results, and the second highest spend is in Blaenau Gwent, which achieves some of the worst results.  That suggests to me that social factors – and particularly relative wealth – are at least as important as determinants as the amount of money being spent.  That in turn suggests that whilst reorganising the management and increasing the spend might look like decisive action, the real action needed is much more about tackling the underlying inequalities - and thus has little to do with the education portfolio at all.


Cibwr said...

One of the biggest factors is family commitment to education. There used to be something of a tradition in Wales that saw education as the way to improvement.

We need to re-enthuse parents to become actively involved with their children's education. That I think is the key.

MH said...

You seem to be quoting from a report, John, but I haven't been able to find a copy of anything more recent than "The Structure of Educational Services in Wales" report dated 9 March from this page. What you've quoted isn't from that; though as a definition of spend per pupil, the 2006 "Report on School Funding Arrangements in Wales" says almost the same thing.

So are you referring to the 9 March report, or is there something else? If so, do you have a link?

John Dixon said...


This is the report I've used - it's the same one that I referred to in the earlier post, and the one which the parties all still refer to, with the £604 gap.

Anonymous said...

s it true John you are considering joining the Labour party?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cibwr.
For a long time Education has become a vehicle to export our youth out of Wales
Since the Sixties we have lost so much of our economic activity that there is very little opportunity for our school leavers to remain here.
Staying is synonymous with academic failure and benefit dependency.

There is a lot of thinly diguised anti Assembly articles floating around on the principles that if you throw enough mud some will stick or the bigger the lie the more will accept it as fact

To measure Education achievement by pseudo monetary yardsticks is nonsense.
As you so rightly say there are other factors at play and that is the real challenge for the Assembly

John Dixon said...

Anon 20:10,

Where on earth has that idea come from? Absolutely not.

Morgan Hen said...

I think that Cibwr's point is the most important. 'its the parents Stupid". and so it is. Yet I hear very little about lack of parental involvement in the latest news. is that my imagination? Or could it be this is something that requires the hardest work. Yes have better prepared teachers but we also need better prepared parents, or all the best teachers in the world will not help.

Morgan Hen said...

I hope they do not decide to go down the NCLB route of constant testingtestingtestingtesting

John Dixon said...

Are parental attitudes and family commitment to education important factors? Yes, of course they are. But we also need to think a little bit about why the variation in such attitudes and commitment varies as much as it does, and why it seems to have such a strong correlation with inequalities of income and wealth.

Even if it were not for such correlations, and even if these factors stood alone, as it were, as causes, then that would still support the main point that I was making, which is that changes to the funding or management structures of the educational system are not addressing the underlying causes.

They may look like taking decisive action, of the sort much-loved by politicians, but are unlikely to have much impact on outcomes in themselves.

Morgan Hen said...

Yes and no John. Poverty does pay a negative role in poor eduaction. However I know enough kids who live in deprived areas who have parents who care and are involved.

I find here that the difference is contant communication between school and parents.

John Dixon said...

Olde Boar,

"However I know enough kids who live in deprived areas who have parents who care and are involved."

Of course, and I wouldn't deny that. We're not talking about something here that's entirely 'black-and-white', cause and effect. But anecdotal exceptions don't change the strong correlation between relative wealth and school performance. That doesn't mean that eliminating inequalities of wealth would eliminate the inequalities of performance; that's not what I'm arguing. What I do argue, however, is that concentrating on changes purely within the educational system, and failing to address the wider issue of inequality, will not solve the differences in performance.

"I find here that the difference is contant communication between school and parents."

And I'm sure that such communication is important, but it won't resolve the underlying issue. And, to return to my core point, neither does it depend either on more funding or a reorganisation of the management deck chairs.

Morgan Hen said...

I agree moving around managerial deck chairs or just doing things just to look like you are will not resolve anything. But, unfortunately that is what you will get, and the last ones to get any meaning support will be head teacher, teachers and kids.