Cut quango budgets, not schools

The Department for Education have announced their new funding formula, which means more money for schools in the most deprived areas and less for those in London. Whilst this looks like a simple rejigging of the Education budget – the National Audit Office predict that this will constitute a £3bn of cuts in schools. So will these budget changes bring greater equality to our schools and end the massive geographical inequality that are currently inherent in the British system?

The changes are certainly long overdue – a funding system where two schools of exactly the same size and similar cohorts of students should receive roughly equitable funding. Taxpayers should not be expected to sustain the privilege of certain schools over others, those that pay their tax in Barnsley should expect their children to get as good a deal as those that pay their tax in Kingston.

However, in reality, what these cuts will do is impose a greater amount of pressure on a system already groaning under the weight of their financial burdens. The NAO, in the same report, also predicted that 60% of Secondary schools are already in deficit and can ill afford the projected £326,000 they are set to lose by 2020.

Cuts like these that affect the classroom mean bigger class sizes for our students, a limited opportunity to provide the best resources in our schools and an even bigger burden placed on staff shortages. If cuts are to be made, we should seek to ensure that the impact is as far removed from our children as possible.

So what can we do without? There are plenty of quangos that could be added to the 2010 ‘bonfire’. This could both contribute tremendous spending cuts and have the added benefit of liberating our schools from unnecessary administration and restrictive practices.

Take OFSTED for example, with a budget of over £160 million. Most of what OFSTED does be replaced by school leaders sharing best practice and governors being given the proper ability to hold their schools to account. Removing the four tier rating system would also have a significant impact on our schools.

School leaders are perpetually caught in a tsunami of paperwork; all in the name of securing the best OFSTED ratings. Even those schools that are already ‘Outstanding’ struggle to recruit to their Senior Leadership Teams, with staff shirking the burden that comes with maintaining such a reputation. In addition, 89% of England’s schools are rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by OFSTED – but where is the evidence that this rigour in the quango’s assessment of schools is having an impact on school’s results, or England’s performance Internationally? If there isn’t, it’s time to get rid. Try something else, something significantly less expensive.

That deals with how schools are judged – what about how students are assessed? Why is the government designing a curriculum? Not only is it costly (to the tune of £265 million) but there is something fundamentally dangerous about the state deciding what the future generation should and should not learn. The £265 million comes from the Standards and Testing Agency, who design Primary school tests, and Education Standards, Curriculum and Qualifications, which includes the qualifications regulator. The idea has been mooted before that Universities and other professionals should have a role in assessing the quality of various qualifications, and why shouldn’t they? There is no reason at all that the government should or needs to be involved in what we teach our children and how they are assessed for what they have learned. If the state does set the curriculum and tests it inevitably stifles a school’s ability to innovate and further, ultimately restricts parental choice.

I mentioned earlier staff shortages, and where there’s a problem there is a highly funded, bureaucratic organisation there to fill the void. The National College for Teaching and Leadership is the departmental body responsible for the awarding of Qualified Teaching Status (QTS) for new recruits, the further career development of teachers and school leaders and the building of partnerships between schools. This cost £403 million in 2015/16.

In 2012 the National Professional Qualification for Headship ceased to be compulsory, allowing ‘anyone’ to step into a Headteacher’s office and assume the role. Schools did not implode or crumble from the lack of decent leadership. In fact, only 10% of England’s schools are considered to be requiring improvement or inadequate 5 years later. Why then would we not trust schools to award QTS to the appropriate candidates? After all, a school is assessed by their results and quality of teaching, it seems unlikely that schools will flood the classroom with hugely underqualified staff. And why aren’t these leaders who have ensured that a staggering percentage of our schools are good and outstanding trusted to build their own partnerships between schools? Many naturally exist because of academy chains, and the changes to the National Curriculum and Primary Assessments make it vital that Primary and Secondary schools communicate with one another. It simply is not necessary for the Department of Education to be involved at all.

The savings outlined above would only amount to around £828 million, give or take allowing for administrative costs. There is also the possibility that the bulk of the quango be offset but that some skeleton of the organisations would need to remain for maintenance and monitoring of processes, although I would argue that this too would be unnecessary. Whilst these savings would not total the required £2 billion, it does demonstrate the incredible potential there is to make savings that would not impact directly on the classroom.

Quangos cost money, their status should not be maintained at the expense of funding for our schools. If cuts need to be made, this is where we should start.


Daniel is a Secondary School teacher in Buckinghamshire and a member of the Wycombe Conservative Association. Follow him on Twitter: @danielrdownes

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty