The building of another one hundred and forty schools should have been met with universal agreement and applause; we certainly need the pupil places. The £216 million to rebuild and refurbish existing schools is much needed following a huge squeeze on capital spending in the last Parliament. It’s insufficient but it’s a start.
However, you can sense a “but” is coming and it’s a very big “but” …
… the building of these schools should be seen as part of a national infrastructure programme rather than the current piecemeal, free for all approach we have. No-one would think it a good idea to get 140 different firms to build a road from Berwick on Tweed to Penzance; what happens if the different firms don’t link up the various bits of the road coherently? There needs to be a central overview of where there is greatest need and a targeting of these to increase school places.
… there is a financial interplay between capital and recurrent budgets but in the end we need both. Spending no money on maintaining or improving our school buildings is storing up massive problems for tomorrow. Enhanced funding for schools’ recurrent budgets should be found by limiting spend on pet projects rather than ignoring the capital needs of schools.
… there’s always lots of talk about “giving parents greater choice in finding a good school for their child, whatever their background”. The disadvantaged and just about managing families are never advantaged by more choice; affluent parents are more adept at navigating the admission maze, arguing at appeal and getting their child in the school of their choice. More grammar schools will exacerbate the fragmentation of the system and do little to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Are there really fewer good schools in disadvantaged areas or are our accountability system’s metrics biased towards schools with more affluent higher attaining intakes?
… the focus on the “good school”, with the inevitable internal variability, is useful as a sound byte but poor in terms of policy; focusing on giving every child a good education is far more important.
“It matters much more what class room you go to rather than which school.”
The key is a great teacher in every class room; great teaching for every child. Teachers need to have the active support of school leaders. School leaders and teachers need to work in a system where the culture is based on high trust, agency and responsibility. Thus forms a respectful relationship between state and schools that improves retention and promotes recruitment. More schools is one thing but ensuring we have more great teaching and enough teachers is another. Let’s start collectively focusing on what really matters rather than what we can easily do or personal preferences.