How much should we spend on schools? Part 2: How to fix schools in ten years

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In part 1, I described how reducing government spending on schools, in England, offers little economic advantage. In fact, it is highly likely that it would contribute to increasing national debt. I will look at the contribution to the economy in part 3. In this post I answer the question, how much should we spend on schools? And, how much should we spend to overcome the two key issues in education:

  1. The quality of students’ learning, progress and outcomes.
  2. Teacher recruitment and retention.

My solution includes reducing teacher contact time by increasing the number of teachers in schools. This would improve recruitment and retention, as the job would be more attractive. I would increase spending on research and development in HEI, the third sector and in collaboration with schools. I would increase teachers’ pay. Finally I would considerably increase the number of teachers training to teach and also improve the quality of training.

For this post, I have developed a simple spending model to be implemented over a ten-year period. Although this model is simple, I intend that it explains and illustrates the nature of education spending and that it may be the basis of more sophisticated modelling later. Most of all I want to show that funding is not a barrier to developing a world- class school system, with the highest standards of practice, professionalism and innovation.

Increasing pay and teacher supply

I propose the following:

  1. Teachers’ pay increases 3% per year for ten years.
  2. Increase the number of training places for teachers to 50,000 each year – this would be a fully-funded two-year masters course combining school-based practicum/ internship with Higher Education-based programmes. This is intended to add an additional 15,000 teachers into schools each year in order to reduce workload and increase the quality of teaching and learning (see Table 1).
teacher numbers
Table 1: Estimates of increased teacher numbers of a ten-year programme of expansion of teacher-training

Projected spending over ten years

Now I bring these elements together. In Table 2 I have included the cost of additional teacher training, the salaries of additional teachers [1], the total numbers of teachers in schools [2], teachers’ average salaries [2], the cost of increased pay, additional research and development spending (£100 million per annum). I have then calculated total spending as a percentage of GDP.

Table 2: Total projected education spending (based on year 1 prices)
What this shows is that generous investment in schools does not have a major effect on overall spending on education. Notice, in particular, total additional spending in row 8 of Table 2. There is a small increase in spending but as a percentage of GDP it remains reasonable; judging by international comparisons (see Figure 2).

Effectively, then, the problems we have with learning and progress, and teacher recruitment and retention could be solved. It begs the question why does the government choose not to?

In this model, after ten years, education spending as a percentage of GDP would be 5.7% (see Table 2). This is comparable with other developed nations, notably Finland which is often cited as an example of an effective education system  (see Figure 1).

OECD primary to tertiray spending on ed as percent of gdp
Figure 1: OECD comparisons of education spending (as percentage of GDP) for 2012
In part 3, I will look at the multiplier effect to see how additional investment might have a positive long-term effect on GDP.

[1] I have not included an increase in student numbers. However, the model could be scaled accordingly, to consider the effects of increased student numbers.

[2] The current average teachers salary and teacher numbers have been sourced from the  School workforce data. In November 2014, average teachers’ annual pay £37,400. The total number of teachers in England (primary, secondary schools) is 454,900. The total annual salary bill is £17 billion.


Update 9 April 2016. This post is really useful. Argues for education to be treated as infrastructure for the purpose of closing achievement gap

Update 10 April – some analysis of school spending by Becky Allen (2012)[1].pdf

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