ALTHOUGH schools have been shielded from the coalition’s cuts, inflationary pressures still leave education facing the greatest spending reduction since the 1950s, according to the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies.
It is a shortfall that will not be met, despite Michael Gove’s comments yesterday, by shifting the financial onus for higher education from taxpayers to university students.
The Education Secretary’s challenge is to ensure that existing money is spent more wisely and that moves to introduce academies, and widen parental choice, does not deflect from the need to improve standards.
Spending is being targeted, through the innovative pupil premium, at schools in deprived areas.
This is critical – the reason why so many youngsters struggle at secondary school is because they do not grasp basic literacy and numeracy skills at primary level.
The reasons are many – poor parenting, truanting and other behavioural issues, inadequate teaching and the failure of schools to identify weaknesses such as dyslexia.
Yet it would be counter-productive if any academic progress accrued as a result of Mr Gove’s policies was then jeopardised by other cuts. A child’s education is too important to be left to the Government’s ability to appeal to the benevolence of those entrepreneurs being asked to fund academies.
As such, Mr Gove should acknowledge the concerns of the IFS and then redouble his efforts to find areas of education spending that can be reduced without impinging upon a child’s life chances.
For, while the IFS warns that education funding for 16-19-year-olds is most at risk, spending in this sector will have to increase if the Minister’s policies help to raise standards. It is a conundrum that cannot be ignored; the prospects of many young people depend on Mr Gove solving this conundrum.