I spent two glorious weeks earlier this month taking my four nephews, aged 6-11, to school. The eldest one is in year 6 and is looking forward to going to secondary school. The school that he is going to is a well thought of comprehensive school which is over-subscribed.
From September, It will also close early every Friday. It isn’t alone.
Without wishing to sound alarmist, this is a huge deal. I was a teacher for the best part of a decade and one of the things I constantly stressed to pupils was the impact of absence on attainment. I didn’t say this to scare the children but because it is absolutely true.
To be clear, the school day is broken down into two sessions, morning and afternoon. There are 380 sessions a year. If a pupil misses a single afternoon session in a week, their attendance is 90%. This equates to 342 sessions over the course of the year. If you don’t believe that those missing 38 sessions – 19 days in real talk – make a difference, I have some magic beans to sell you. The Government’s national expectation is 96%. The above graphic makes it plain – missing 2-3 weeks of school has a significant impact on attainment rates. I am certain that schools will fiddle the school day so that their week still has 10 sessions, but there is no replacement for lost time.
Why is this happening? Money.
State schools are underfunded. This comes as no surprise to parents who are constantly being asked to fundraise for luxury items. Quick aside: one day, I was asked to bring in some large bottles of drink, one per nephew, for the school’s fete. When I asked my sister why, she told me it was so the school could sell those same drinks back to the parents to fundraise. This story seems mild when compared to the woes of some other schools:
or what teachers are spending their wages on.
There is no way to spin this. The UK ranks 56 in the world in education spending as a percentage of GDP (it’s outspent and outperformed by countries as varied as Vietnam, Finland and New Zealand). It ranks 15th, 27th and 22nd worldwide in the PISA global education rankings of science, maths and reading. Schools are cutting the day because they literally cannot afford to stay open longer. An internet search of ‘school funding pressures’ reveals this screenshot:
That screenshot can be easily dismissed as circumstantial. This, from the independent, impartial and evidence-based Education Policy Institute is not so easily waved off:
Schools’ financial deficits: the latest trends
Assessing the state of school balances for local authority maintained schools (1,136 secondaries, 13,404 primaries) over the last 7 years, we find that a number of schools have been struggling financially, and are now in deficit:
- The number of local authority maintained secondary schools in deficit reduced from 14.3 per cent in 2010-11 to 8.8 per cent in 2013-14. Strikingly, however, over the period of four years up until 2016-17, the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit nearly trebled, expanding to over a quarter of all such schools – or 26.1 per cent. The average local authority maintained secondary school deficit rose over this 7 year period, from £292,822 in 2010-11 to £374,990 in 2016-17.
- The number of local authority maintained primary schools in deficit has also risen. In 2010-11, 5.2 per cent of local authority primary schools were in deficit – this reduced in the following year to 3.7 per cent, before staying at a level of around 4 per cent until 2015-16. However, in 2016-17, the proportion of primary schools in deficit increased significantly, to 7.1 per cent. The average primary school deficit also noticeably increased, from £72,042 in 2010-11, to £107,962 in 2016-17.
Taken from epi.org.uk
Schools are in deficit and are closing early. It would seem the easiest solution is to increase funding, right? Well, not according to Liz Truss, Treasury Secretary who, in a speech at the London School of Economics on Tuesday, criticised Michael Gove (who wouldn’t ? – Ed) and other “macho” colleagues for asking for extra funding rather than “demand better value and challenge the blob of vested interests within your department”. Damian Hinds, education secretary, responded, saying:
“I’m not sure how ‘macho’ fits in with these things.”
“When it comes to our key public services, of which education is one, we need to make sure that we have the level of resourcing we would all expect for our children and the nation’s children.”
I wasn’t around to go to the school fete, but I feel sorry for the parents and carers who were asked to pay twice for those drinks. Maybe I shouldn’t – perhaps they are part of the “blob of vested interests” that Ms Truss was talking about. Bloody parents eh, wanting luxury items like toilet rolls, hot meals, exercise books and glue sticks for their kids – next they’ll want actual humans and not robots teaching them, too…