Education is what really matters. Who could possibly disagree?
The globalised economy has moved jobs from the G7 industrialised economies (in alphabetic order: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US) to the newly industrialised BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which account for half the world’s population. The simple and obvious reason for job migration was initially because labour costs were so much lower in the BRICS economies. But their manufacturing experience has provided a foundation for their future economic development; they now offer much more than simply cheap labour.
President Chump promises to bring those jobs back to America, but he’s going to struggle. The G7 economies will not be competitive at the low end of economic activity, unless and until they fall much further back into the doldrums. G7 success will depend on developing in the high tec, innovative segments of new industries. And to do that, they must lead the world with their educational systems.
The UK is unfortunate in having been led these past few decades by a simplistic economic belief system which claims free markets with open access are the key to success and that state involvement in the economy should be minimised. Since the 2008 crash, that belief has involved a commitment to limiting public expenditure wherever possible, notably on health, education and social services. The impacts on our much-loved NHS and adjacent services have gained tremendous publicity. But the educational impacts, though of even greater importance to UK’s future, are much less known and understood.
The National Audit Office (NAO) report on the Financial Sustainability of Schools concluded that there would be an 8% real terms reduction in per pupil funding for mainstream schools between 2014-15 and 2019-20. That will mean £3billion cuts, £1.7 billion to be achieved through savings in workforce spending, and £1.3billion in procurement spending on basic equipment. The NAO is uncertain about “how schools are able to respond based on their particular circumstances.” However there is plenty of evidence direct from schools themselves.
Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders told the BBC, “We are deeply concerned that the life chances of young people are being put at risk by the government’s under-funding of education.” [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-38301843]
A joint statement from heads’ and teachers’ unions claimed that schools are suffering the “biggest real-terms cuts in a generation … urgently need additional investment … are already seeing job losses, increased class sizes and cuts to courses in our schools and colleges.” Subjects including art, music, drama and design as well as technology, were identified as at risk of termination.
Head teachers in Sussex and Cheshire are considering a four day week among other options. Some subjects will have to be cut, class sizes increased and services for children with special needs reduced. Also being considered is the possibility of children working at home with their teachers online as virtual support. Some schools will certainly fail and high calibre committed staff will undoubtedly desert their profession.
Downing Street has long been immune to such complaints. It has maintained its commitment to austerity, rather than economic stimulus, and with the focus firmly on the quantity of money involved rather than the velocity of its circulation. But real economics is not about simplistic theories. As Cambridge economist, Ha-Joon Chang, has pointed out, ‘95% of economics is common sense’.
Common sense tells us we need to invest more in our education systems for the sake of our children and future generations.