There were high expectations for the recent Education White Papers, but it’s been a bit of a damp squib.
Many hoped the current Secretary of State could set a clear course for the future unlike his predecessor, the recently knighted Gavin Williamson of the algorithm and exams fiasco.
The main ambition appears to be to complete the forced academisation of all schools over the next eight years and to placate Tory-led Education Authorities by letting them also form multi academy trusts.
That’s just tinkering around with structures. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that total spending per pupil for 2019/20 was £6,500. It was £7,200 under Gordon Brown back in 2009/10. At the same time, the government is accused of squandering £5 billion on the private company Randstad, recruited to provide ‘catch up’ tutoring.
Turns out they’ve helped 300,000 of the two million children they were supposed to target. You may recall that Sir Kevan Collins, the ‘recovery Tsar’, resigned after his detailed programme costed at £15 billion was ditched by ministers who instead will spend £1.4 billion, a tenth of what is needed, over the next three years.
At a time when low productivity and low skills are driving the cost-of-living crisis, we’re entitled to expect a lot more. I do welcome the national register for children not in school. This seems long overdue. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 children who should be in school have effectively ‘disappeared’.
Is it any wonder that we have an explosion of mental health problems, teenage gangs and crime? It’s also time there was some proper guidance about education and standards expected at Pupil Referral Units. These are the places children, who are disruptive, are sent when mainstream schools decide they can no longer cope.
This White Paper doesn’t give me confidence that the Government even understands what our children need. If I was marking it, I’d say, ‘must do better!’
Steve McCabe MP writes a weekly column for Birmingham Mail