‘We’re being asked to educate children for the price of half a dozen eggs’
It was the weekly humanities department meeting and discussion had turned to one of our biggest causes of frustration: school funding.
One colleague announced that they had been calculating how much they were allocated to educate each student on average over the course of a year. The figure they had come up with was 88p. That’s about the same price as half a dozen medium eggs from a leading supermarket.
During 16 years in the profession, I too have suffered the gradual diminishing provision of subject funding, yet I was genuinely shocked by this revelation. Can it be right or indeed possible to educate a child across the academic year for the comparative price of half a dozen eggs?
In 2016, the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, announced that mainstream schools will have to make £3 billion of savings. While such sound-bites attract sporadic media attention, the extent of the true implications being felt at the ‘chalk-face’ often remain on the periphery of public awareness. If parents were fully informed about the extent to which austerity measures affect education provision for their children, I believe they would be gravely concerned.
‘Learning is being affected’
Schools are currently undergoing great change with the introduction of new GCSE syllabuses – and yet many of my colleagues have had requests for new textbooks rejected because of a lack of funds. During a discussion with one subject head, she revealed that she had resorted to providing resources at her own expense, buying the core textbook herself and then spending £57 of her own money on photocopying.
Sadly, her story is not unusual. My biggest concern is how the quality of student learning is being affected. Only last week, my request to photocopy four colour A3 maps was declined, because there is currently a ban on colour photocopying at my school. I was told to “make greater use of the whiteboard” instead.
In the context of geography, where there is a need to illustrate graphical data, a ban on colour photocopying is extremely restrictive. In a mixed ability class, the constraints of board-centric resources result in a lack of differentiated support for weaker students and make it more difficult to cater for more able students who need to be stretched. Most worryingly, relying on the whiteboard creates a sedentary teacher-led learning environment, which is the very antithesis of promoting independent investigation and incorporating various styles of teaching – the type of practice that is widely recommended.
Placing the blame
Who do we blame for all this? It is difficult to place the blame with school leaders, who are taking these decisions as they try to manage budgets that are increasingly unfit for purpose. I remember the frustration of my previous headteacher as he spoke to us about having to manage a £130,000 shortfall.
These financial constraints are exacerbated by ever-increasing demands for more aspirational student and whole-school targets. In education, the fundamental principles of economics seem not to apply. The concept of “more for less” has become an expectation, rather than an ideology.
This is not just my personal experience. It is happening all over the country. A 2017 survey by parent organisation PTA UK revealed that nearly a third of parents have been asked to supply teaching equipmentlike stationery and books – and almost a fifth have been asked to provide essentials like toilet paper.
In the last general election, school funding did become a topic for public debate. “You can’t put a price on education” was the rhetoric often preached. But from my recent experience, it appears that you can: it’s about 88p per student.
The writer is an anonymous geography teacher from the north of England