Next year’s spending review will be a golden opportunity for the government to set out a strategic direction for education and skills spending, and to ensure a system fit for the 21st century, says Robert Halfon
Our National Health Service is rightly lauded, but it is not the only sector that impacts the lives of almost every single person in the country. There can also be little doubt of the importance of the role of education and skills in our society.
Every day in our schools and colleges, teachers and staff are doing crucial work to improve the life chances of our young people. However, despite some remarkable work, we still lag way behind other countries in too many key areas.
According to a study by the OECD, our 16- to 24-year-olds have lower literacy and numeracy skills than their peers in almost all other member countries. Nine million of all working-age group adults have low basic skills. Our education system is not properly preparing our young people and giving them the chances they deserve to prosper.
The chancellor signalled in his budget this week that the NHS is the number one focus of the British people. But surely education and skills are a joint number one priority too. Good education and skills is vital for the jobs, security and prosperity of our people and our country.
The health service has NHS England to fight its corner with ministers.
Schools and colleges do not have the luxury of an independent body trusted by the public to make its case for the funding the system so desperately needs.
The Commons education select committee is taking on this role.
It is a golden opportunity to set out a strategic direction for education and skills spending
We are committed in taking forward the case for a longer-term look at school and college funding – a 10-year strategic funding plan for education.
It is inexplicable and astonishing that the health service can have a 10-year funding and strategic plan, but the education sector does not.
It is imperative that the government starts to think more long term and banish the idea that Treasury processes should be the primary drivers for education funding.
The current state of funding appears unsustainable – despite the welcome additional annual £1.3 billion being committed last year for school budgets up until 2020.
The government claims that education funding will reach a record level of £43.5 billion. However, the IFS has estimated that funding per pupil in England has fallen by eight per cent over the past eight years.
Moreover, further education has been starved when compared with other areas of education spending, with a funding “dip” for students between the ages of 16 and 18.
Successive governments have failed to give further education the recognition it deserves, especially when considering the crucial role it plays in building the skills of young people and helping them to climb the ladder of opportunity.
The £400 million for schools in the budget is very welcome, but it is not enough. Describing it as money for the “little extras” is only the latest example of the DfE’s initiative-itis – a piecemeal approach to spending, handing out a few hundred million here and there. This funding is necessary, but where is the long-term approach?
Perhaps the DfE needs the NHS to provide a vaccination for initiative-itis.
Our current inquiry into school and college funding aims to give all those with a stake in a successful education system a role in creating a 10-year vision for funding. We are hearing from every part of our education system from teachers and students to policy experts, parents and economists.
Rising cost pressures faced by schools and sixth form and FE colleges have led to serious challenges in providing the high-quality education – a key driver for social justice and productivity.
Now the budget has passed, we should look forward to the spending review. This provides the government with a real chance to help close the funding gap. It is a golden opportunity to set out a strategic direction for education and skills spending, and to ensure an education system truly fit for the 21st century.