Those education cuts

On Saturday I attended my first protest march. The weather was grey and drizzly, my banner, saying “No more cuts” was hastily made the night before and I really wished I had brought a whistle. But along with many other march virgins, I joined a crowd of about 6,000 people walking through Bristol, shouting “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” at the top of my voice, in protest at cuts to the education budget.


Spending seems to be rolling back to about the levels of 2005 or so as a portion of the national budget. Or after inflation, whichever way around you want to look at it.

As a rough guide the system gets £5,000 a year per kid and £7,000 per teenager. Teaching them to read and write should be achievable within that. 4.5% of GDP, 11.5% of public expenditure.

Also, note what this woman is actually marching for. That someone else pay the bills for her children to be educated.

44 thoughts on “Those education cuts”

  1. My bucket list includes attending one of these demos holding up a banner saying “No. More cuts!” .

  2. Budget is stable at my primary school.

    Funnily enough, the heads of several schools got together to get a better deal on insurance. Result, 70% saving for our school. Over the whole group of school, probably amount to about £300k.

    Amazing what can be accomplished.

  3. ‘My bucket list includes attending one of these demos holding up a banner saying “No. More cuts!” .’

    We don’t spend enough on our schools for people to understand the difference.

  4. “One primary school in East Sussex even asked parents to donate essential items including glue, pencils, sticky tape and toilet rolls.”

    I bet I could look over that school’s budget & recommend cutting a few things that would more than pay for toilet rolls….

  5. I bet this woman longs for a Corbyn government. You’d never get her to understand that that would lead to actual cuts later though.

  6. To be fair, we can’t just compare with total spending in 2005 – I believe there are more children now. £/child would be a better metric.

    On a related point, Labour are boasting that they’ll scrap university tuition fees. They never stop to ask why exactly a degree costs £9,000 a year. That’s £2,000 more than your figure for teenagers; yet universities have shorter terms, fewer taught hours per day, and much larger classrooms.

  7. Ah, Andrew M. But universities have educators of the quality of the great Professor of Practise in Political Economics. There’s no comparison.

  8. Considering that the state provides piss-poor education plus socialist indoctrination then the sooner a 100% cut can be made the better.

  9. Andrew M said:
    “universities have … much larger classrooms”

    Lectures are (usually) much larger than the typical school class of 30, but seminar groups are generally smaller. Overall cost depends on the balance between the two.

    But your other points, especially the much lower amount of teaching time during the week, are valid. Huge amounts of wasted money.

  10. @ Andrew M. University education costs £9,000/year because the government set the maximum amount they could charge at £9,000/year. Simple really.

  11. The Thought Gang

    Universities also need enough money to provide employment to sufficient numbers of their otherwise unemployable output to ensure that the next cohort of otherwise unemployable figures it might be worthwhile joining the scheme.

  12. Would you consider settling for a 50% reduction, Mr Ecks? Dispense with the teachers & just keep the administators. The effect on the education system should be minimal.

  13. Whistles, the staple of totalitarians who want to drown out any prospect of hearing any views which may contradict their own.

    There was an excellent short video of a (German?) broadcaster who arranged an interview with a well-known (in Germany) far Leftist. She asked the first question, then pulled out a whistle and blew it loudly in the other woman’s face. Every time the Leftist began to speak, loud whistle.

    She eventually got up in embarrassment and tried to leave the building, but the interviewer and cameraman followed her, whistle still loudly blowing. Even into the street.

    Wonderful. For once she got an inkling of how much of a cunt she was. Bet it didn’t last long.

  14. I know that of which I speak; 15 years as a Director in one of the Big 4 consulting firms. Back in Xmas I decided to go solo and help schools and groups of schools (Trusts) to learn some private sector principles to take out costs. My eyes are opened.

    First – Income/Revenue is set by DfE and will rise with inflation to 2020. The complaint is that this settlement does not reflect pupil numbers rising 1-2%pa. The problem with that objection is that costs don’t rise with pupil numbers. 1% more pupils means 1% more income. But costs are mostly fixed. What really drives costs is the decision to hold more classes e.g the school I am at now holds Urdu classes* with 20 kids in it. That is what drives up the cost.

    So I set about finding other cuts to help fund the curriculum. Frankly its easy. Benchmarking suggested £2m pa for that group of schools. They didn’t believe me, so they have let me loose in one of the schools in the trust. At the end of week 6 (last week) I had £200k pa savings identified. eg:
    – They pay £10k for broadband. Then still pay extra for analogue voice lines
    – They were about to pay £2k for the most simple website
    – They have 2 different suppliers but managing the servers.

    It’s criminal how easy it is to cut costs. And the thing is this: the biggest single obstacle I face is that the Directors in the Trust find me offensive. I’m a city boy. A merchant wnkr. I probably even voted for these evil Tory cuts. So they spend more time undermining me than they do giving me the info I need to do my job.

    I’m tempted to go back to private sector and if I do, I will spend the rest of my life throwing slippers at the telly everytime I hear about education cuts. They say they want an injection of private sector skills, but they dont. Its another deflection. They are just another bottomless pit like the NHS.

    *its supposed to be an easy pass mark for these kids, although the Urdu teacher complains that cos the parents are illiterate they learn it all wrong at home.

  15. It’s not too widely understood, but still public knowledge, that Universities subsidise their research from teaching income. Research councils and other funders will only pay a proportion of the forecast costs of a research project (Research councils pay 80%, I think). Universities must find the rest themselves, which is one reason for costing more than secondary schools.

  16. The Inimitable Steve

    Gary – sounds like we could save a lot of money by sending would-be Urdu scholars and their illiterate parents to Hindoostan or East Pakistan or something with a Stan in it.

  17. TiS. Yeah that is true, but then the schools fails on the Progress 8 measure and the schools are seen as failing. teachers get it in the neck. And teachers are not the problem here. Not for this problem of evil Tory cuts. Yes there are plenty of soft-left cossetted idiot teachers, but that a different problem.

  18. Those figures seem a little low. Last time I looked a few years ago there were about 11 million school age kids and the education budget was 88 billion. Although I suppose tertiary education could make up the difference. Or perhaps the higher cost of operating in cities.

  19. Geoffers,
    I accept that good universities do good research. But the expansion of higher education in recent decades has, unsurprisingly, pushed the quality downwards. The University of Northampton has an Institute for Creative Leather Technologies; and Bucks New Uni’s recent press releases mention “research into how cutlery can affect the flavour of food”.

    If I were paying £9,000 a year for a degree at Bucks New Uni, I’d be rather peeved to learn that my money is being used to subsidise a bloke who has a PhD in ‘Spoons and Spoonness’.

    Maybe I’m mistaken, and maybe cutting-edge spoon design is indeed worthy of subsidy by loading gullible 18 year olds with £27,000 of debt. But in any other sector, we’d call this a mis-selling scandal.

  20. Richard, my experience of university is that they have the same teaching time a week as school. Just they don’t try and make work.
    Actual time on a particular subject in school may be an hour or two.

    University also has to pay for lots of books. The school books will be a few quid each and purchased in bulk. University books will tend to be one off or few purchased of any title and can be a hundred pounds plus.
    The lecturers are usually required to do other things too – not just teach and mark.

  21. @bongo – I am reminded of the old (and possibly apocryphal) story of the BBC cameraman in Tehran covering the Islamic revolution in 1979. He got so bored that he put on a full burkha and joined a street protest carrying a placard reading “NO TO THE SIDCUP BYPASS”

  22. > University also has to pay for lots of books.

    I’m pretty sure I paid for my own books at university.

  23. TIS: “Gary – sounds like we could save a lot of money by sending would-be Urdu scholars and their illiterate parents to Hindoostan or East Pakistan or something with a Stan in it.”

    Accrington Stanley..?

  24. @ Gary,

    I could not agree more. We’ve spent £100ks for new windows a simple extension (2 normal rooms) was £200K, but the budget comes from another thing called LCVAT grant (except for the 10% governor fund) which you apply for with your quote and is separate from the school budget. I do not know of a time when that was refused.

    I tried to get involved in a project for windows (as I thought £120k for a few windows was a bit steep)and got a 75 pages proposal from the project manager (who “manages” for a fee). The only important thing was the u value, which turned out to be completely wrong by a factor of 2! All the rest was boiler plate H&S crap. Apparently it was a mistake. The only thing they had to get right was this number, and they could not even be bothered. For the head and deputy, it was too complicated so they were happy with it. They come up with the quote, they do not approve the money so the responsibility lies elsewhere.

    Multiply that by 1000s of schools, and the waste is just mind boggling.

  25. Distance learning is underrated and underused for delivering university-level education.

    I just earned myself an MA in Intelligence and International Relations from Staffordshire Uni, which cost me a total of £4,000 plus a lot of spare time. Never went near the university: all done by Interweb. It was a good course, too (Staffs have aimed their distance-learning courses squarely at the military market – good fun watching a left-leaning professor cope with a mob of military minds on the roots of poverty in the Third World… to give her credit, I think she enjoyed the debate)

    You do, though, have to focus, actually do the reading and the work, and deliver your assignments on time. Students who don’t, tend to drop off the course quickly. It’s not a way to turn up, log on, and collect your degree a couple of years later…

  26. @Martin

    Big difference between contact hours for humanities / arts / social science and for STEM subjects. Knew a chap who was reading English at Leeds (a reputable university with high entry tariff at A level) and found he was getting two hours of contact time per week – his housemates spent the free time they were supposed to be in the library self-studying getting stoned, he just figured it wasn’t worth it and quit. Resat A-levels, improved his grades, went to Cambridge instead. More power to the chap.

  27. @Jason

    Timmy frequently extols the virtues of the University of London external degree, now called their international programme but still available in the UK. No tuition (the odd video uploaded from the residential school you can pay extra to attend, but most students don’t go to London for that), no assignments, but you get a reading list, syllabus, some past exam papers and the ability to sit the exams pretty much any major city in the world. Because you’re largely paying for the exam, it is super cheap. Full University of London degree too, so beats one of these new-fangled MOOCS.

  28. “The University of Northampton has an Institute for Creative Leather Technologies”.

    Is Rocco involved?

  29. Wifey a governor.

    I looked over the budget figures last week.

    Huge proportion goes on maintaining a Victorian building. A lot goes on salaries.

    4 figure sum paying for swimming lessons that the parents are supposed to pay for but don’t. When I queried why kids can go swimming when their parents haven’t paid for it she said they didn’t want to punish the kids for the parents’ crimes as swimming lessons were a useful skill. The logic is impeccable.

  30. “They never stop to ask why exactly a degree costs £9,000 a year. That’s £2,000 more than your figure for teenagers; yet universities have shorter terms, fewer taught hours per day, and much larger classrooms.”

    As Geoffers alludes to, teaching is only one part of an academic’s life. They spend more time on research, which is what they are mostly judged on. So – like it or not – the teaching money subsidises the research.

    You could run a cheaper Uni using staff who don’t do research. In fact, I expect this to happen before too long. (In a way, it’s already happening, as more and more teaching-only posts are created.) But there will always be a demand from better students who will want to be taught by research-active lecturers who are active and prominent in their field, rather than second and third raters who don’t do research.

  31. No point whatsoever to attend Uni full time for degrees that don’t require hands on experience (engineering, medicine, massage studies). After Uni I did a few courses through the Open University and was shocked by how high the standard was compared to the very mixed brick and mortar Uni experience.

    Port Stanley? Plenty of sheep.

  32. Bloke in Wiltshire

    “The University of Northampton has an Institute for Creative Leather Technologies; and Bucks New Uni’s recent press releases mention “research into how cutlery can affect the flavour of food”.”

    Actually, the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (under another name) has been at UofN (formerly Nene College) since the early 80s.

    I know it sounds a bit odd, but shoes and leathergoods have always been a big thing in Northants, and even today, there’s lots of people working in the high end. And the work they do is mostly research and education with lots of connections to industry. It’s also pretty small.

  33. Bloke in Wiltshire

    Gary Taylor,

    “They were about to pay £2k for the most simple website”

    plus ongoing support costs, presumably?

    I point most people at stuff like Squarespace now. About $18/month, does the job. Sometimes needs a little set up, but most schools can get a parent to volunteer a few hours.

  34. “It;s cheaper if the staff don’t do research”

    Not in my experience. The colleague who tells you that ‘we are here to teach undergraduates’ is probably (a) crap at it, (b) does everything in his power to dodge it by doing ‘admin’, (c) buggers off home at 4pm or earlier, (d) ‘works at home’ one day a week, (e) after 30 years in the job teaching the same stuff, takes his lecture notes with him and still gets confused.

  35. @Cal, May 23, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    …You could run a cheaper Uni using staff who don’t do research…

    We used to have them: Polytechnics & Colleges (of Higher Education).

    Lecturers were often excellent and better than Uni ones who saw lectures as a necessary evil to allow them to research & write papers.

    Then Major followed by Blair interfered

  36. Bloke in North Dorset

    Gary Taylor,

    There’s no reason why eduction shouldn’t be like any other form of production. The next widget is at marginal cost until the one that needs a new production line (classroom) or new factory (school), ignoring moving to shift working.

    Any school, like any factory, that isn’t running at max capacity has an inefficiency and needs some cost cutting or better salesmen.

  37. @Cal

    I took his claim at face value, and am inclined to continue to do so – if it was exaggerated, I doubt it was by much. It was bad enough for him to quit and work in a factory for a year.

    About the time this happened I recall similar stories being reported (in the Telegraph, before the click-bait days, when John Clare was education editor) at several other reputable universities. First-term students in particular were being given extensive reading lists (what particularly seemed to leave Clare fuming was that these were often bite-sized chapter extracts rather than whole books, and were being given out to students with the required pages ready-printed, rather than requiring them to get their backsides to the library) with a minimal amount of introductory supervision and basically being left to get on with it. The model seemed to be that once they had absorbed this common core of knowledge, the lecture and assignment workload would increase, and in subsequent years of study when optional courses were available, there would be more seminars etc.

    Effectively independent study was being front-loaded into the 3-year degree while closer supervision was being rear-loaded, which was probably a bit arse about tit given how one might expect a typical first-time-away-from-home teenager to react to the sudden drop-off of structure after sixth form.

  38. My Burning Ears, I’ve had a look at the English Lit course at Leeds (assuming he was doing that rather than the English Lit and Language course). Your friend *was* exaggerating. But not by much. Semester 1 there’s only 3 hours a week of lectures. There will be other contact hours to do with seminars, and perhaps more if you’re expected to do some other subjects, but that’s pretty rubbish. Semester 2 there are 4 hours a week of lectures. Also poor.

    Your friend was wise to do what he did and end up at Cambridge (not that Cambridge is that different in regards to contact time, but everything will be at a higher, and more personalised, level).

  39. @Cal

    Cheers. Suspect it was Lit. Like I said, this was back in the 90s but it is interesting to see how much extra teaching time 9k of tuition fees buys these days – i.e. not a lot!

    Obviously Cambridge is a bit different with the very small group supervisions, as well as the seminars and lectures.

  40. @ MyBurningEars
    At first I thought that you meant two hours per week of tutorials when I only got one hour, or an hour-and-a-bit if I was having problems, of one-to-one tutorials but subsequent comments suggest that you were talking about two hours of *lectures* per week – I cannot remember the exact number but it was at least ten, probably twelve, in addition to the more valuable tutorials, for my undergraduate degree.
    I fail to understand how individuals can learn much if they have no opportunity to ask questions.

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