With so many social and political issues on the agenda at the moment, it can be easy to forget that schools and colleges continue to face major budget cuts. Earlier this year the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlighted the fact that schools in England are set to endure the first real-terms cuts to their funding since the mid-1990s. Spending per pupil is set to fall 6.5% by 2019-20. Sixth Form students are faring particularly badly with spending per further education student falling by 6.7% between 2010-11 and 2015-16, and a further drop of 6.5% expected over the next few years. It means that funding for 16- to 18-year-olds is no higher than it was almost 30 years ago.
With many schools already struggling to replace equipment, improve buildings or even invest in necessary tools such as textbooks, any further cuts have the potential to severely damage children’s education.
Fair Funding For All Schools, an independent, parent-led campaign working to stop cuts to school funding, has warned that the only way to cope with these cuts will be to increase class sizes, reduce the number of teachers and support staff, ask parents to contribute to running costs, and even implement a shorter school day. It’s easy to see how any of these would negatively affect a child’s development. And with all nations of the UK already languishing mid table at best in the increasingly influential PISA rankings, it won’t be long before the reputation of the UK education system suffers globally too.
While it’s perhaps easy to understand why there isn’t a limitless supply of money to upgrade classrooms with the latest technology, there are some changes that could be made to promote sensible investment and encourage the Department for Education to take a more rounded approach to education spending.
As an example, if schools were able to invest in upgrading technology in more than one classroom at a time all pupils would benefit from the latest technology, rather than there being disparity depending on which classroom they are located in; it could also allow schools to benefit from economies of scale when it comes to purchasing. Similarly, if there was encouragement for all classrooms to be identical, each child would have the same opportunities, benefit from the same learning styles and gain experience of using the same equipment. This continuity could be particularly relevant when it comes to students heading into the workplace. There has been concern for some time that pupils are not leaving college and university prepared for the world of work, whether this is because of a lack of communication skills, limited real world experience or not having a sufficient mix of technical and soft skills. As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, it is essential that children learn the tools they’ll be using in the workplace and become comfortable using a broad range of technology that will enable them to continue to adapt to new platforms and systems as they move through life. Schools should be ahead of the curve on this, not behind it.
A key way to enable this is to ring-fence budgets for AV/IT. In the current setup, all funds are treated as one, so any funding initially allocated to technology can be saved or used in other areas as issues arrive. As funding cuts kick in, we’re likely to see this happen more and more as money is used to solve crucial maintenance problems and the like, at the expense of upgrading technology. If funds were allocated to a particular purpose and then had to be used for that, we’d see more continuous investment and learning outcomes would be protected.
It is crucial that anyone with a vested interest in our schools and the education of our young people helps to keep this issue at the top of the political agenda, whether this is by raising awareness, writing to their MP or supporting Fair Funding For All Schools. Here at CDEC we are always keen to listen to your ideas and needs to help you create the most cost-effective and inspiring teaching spaces possible.