A National Education Service is exactly what we need

Jeremy Corbyn has been floating the idea of a National Education Service since his Labour leadership campaign last year. The idea is breathtakingly simple and, in fact, blindingly obvious. The formation of a fully-funded, cradle-to-grave education service is the antithesis of the outsourced fragmented and anti-democratic reforms that have been creeping in since the 1970s. These are a few of my initial thoughts on the idea.

The National Education Service would provide a coordinated high-quality education service that supports learning from early years, through schools, sixth form, further education, undergraduate, postgraduate to adult and lifelong learning.

Schools would no longer be in a position where they are artificially competing with each other, but they would coordinate their strategies and maximise the use of their resources to better serve local communities and regions. It would mean a change from the current fetishisation of leadership to promote mutual and cooperatively run services, where teachers, parents, pupils and communities are recognised as stakeholders and have a greater say in how schools function.

At present there is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, a National Education Service would address this. Teachers would have more professional esteem and have greater control over their work, pay and conditions. The intensity of their work would be reduced by shifting the emphasis from centralised accountability to local democratic accountability.

While some examinations would continue to be important, this would not be at the expense of developing broader skills and more holistic school contributions such as the education of the community and emphasizing inclusivity, collaboration and partnership. Certainly it would move away from excessive compulsory testing for the purpose of accountability. It would mean a departure from a narrowly defined curriculum to one which reflects the needs of the community in which the school is located. The overall aim would be to equip students with the skills and capacities to contribute to society and help them develop as individuals. An overarching aim would be to put education at the heart of making society a more effective, fairer and more inclusive functioning democracy.

In further education, it would mean an end to degenerate privatisation, but provide a service that supports post-16 education, both academic and vocational – without necessarily drawing strong distinctions between the two. It would offer adult learning, whether it be developing skills, allowing people to develop their interests or in helping them prepare for advanced studies. University education would be freely available to all and include opportunity to blend academic and vocational studies. The Open University would be restored to a position where it can offer low-cost and flexible approaches to university-level education.

This is ambitious and the main objection is, simply, that we cannot afford it. My argument is that we cannot afford not to do this. Education is not having the impact on society that it should be, it can do more to improve the quality of outcomes for communities; developing skills and knowledge and helping people make a difference in their lives and to the people around them. While all society’s problems cannot be solved by schools, education can be at the heart of improvement, by equipping the next generation to be more active and effective participants in democracy.

In terms of cost, it has been estimated that the bank bail-out, with all things considered was as much as £1.2 trillion1. Much of this investment went toward the preservation of these institutions and the preservation of the wealth of their key stakeholders. The National Education Service would be fraction of this investment. Of the order of tens of billions each year. Investment that would go directly into the economy but at the same time would result in considerable growth. If it were done carefully this kind of investment would have little impact on the deficit but would have considerable economic and social benefits2.

1. https://soundcloud.com/weeklyeconomicspodcast/endofhistory  Episode 5, The End of History. Economist James Meadway citing IMF estimates

2.  I discuss the economics of school spending in the following blog post: https://sw10014.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/how-much-should-we-spend-on-schools-part-1/

I published this post on the Cambridge Area Momentum site previously

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

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 http://www.compassonline.org.uk/close-the-achievement-gap-treat-education-as-an-investment/

Update 10 April – some analysis of school spending by Becky Allen (2012) http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctpimr/research/DFE-RR183[1].pdf

How much should we spend on schools? Part 1

In the last few months I have become interested in the economics of public services. Especially in relation to school funding. Like many people, I accepted that because of the 2008 financial crisis there was a need to reduce the national debt and ensure the deficit was kept to a minimum. This, I thought, would dictate how much we spent on schools.

This was all fine, until I began to realise that there was more to national debt and deficit than reducing government spending. Two things triggered this. First was the surprising election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015. Prominent in his campaign was forthright opposition to cuts in public spending. Corbyn argued that there were economic alternatives and this was supported by leading economists. The second trigger was a short exchange between the economist and former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, on BBC Question Time at Impington Village College, Cambridge, shortly after Corbyn was elected. Here is the clip:

The audience member explains that if he goes out in Cambridge with £10 and buys three pints of beer, he is probably going be in debt. And he says if he carries on in such a way he will go bust.

He says, “Its not difficult guys. Just sit down work out what the country needs to do and work collectively together.”

Varoufakis immediately responds by saying that the country’s budget does not behave like his finances.

“Why not, why not?” Exclaims the audience member.

Varourfakis explains: “In a country total income equals total expenditure” and goes on to explain that for an individual or a household income and expenditure are independent of one another. He then explains the problem of austerity, that if a country cuts spending then it will also cut income.

Now, this I found difficult to grasp. I found it harder still to explain. However, the expenditure model for Gross Domestic Product (GDP, total income) usefully illustrates what Varoufakis is saying. Look at the relationship between income and expenditure using the following expenditure model:

GDP = (Total Consumption – what we spend on goods and services) + (Total Investment – what is invested in machinery, equipment and houses) + (Government Spending) +Net Exports

This simple model illustrates Varoufakis’s point, that the total income (GDP) has to equal total spending. That is everything that we spend or that we invest in equipment or property added to government spending and the cost of net exports adds up to our total income.

Taking this further: according to OECD data, tax revenue in the UK between 2006 and 2012 has been fairly constant at 35 per cent of GDP. So if government spending is reduced and people spend less on goods and services, then income (GDP) will be reduced. In fact Tax revenues are reduced assuming they remain approximately the same proportion of GDP. It does not necessarily achieve a reduction in the national debt, while it may reduce deficit. Indeed it looks like this is what has happened. In the first of following charts, debt has increased in spite of reduced spending. On the other hand deficit has reduced, as can be seen in the second chart.

Public sector net debt
UK national debt (source BBC website)
UK deficit/surplus ( BBC website)

The reason for this is that deficit, as the difference between government revenue and spending, does not reflect the full extent of economic activity. Effectively then, government  reduced spending to reduce deficit but because this has reduced income it has not reduced the national debt.

I argue then, that we should be spending more on education and on schools in particular. This is because increased government spending contributes to economic activity and increased GDP. In my next post I will look more closely at this. But here I want to outline the benefits. Firstly with more school spending we could reduce teacher workload, which would likely have a positive effect on student learning. It would also have an impact on recruitment: the job would be more attractive. Finally, and in reference to my last post, it would permit innovation. The government could invest in research and development that could be undertaken by both practitioners and academics.

Finally, in spite of cuts in public spending, the government has argued it is protecting school spending. In the Autumn statement on 25 November 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said:

“I can tell the House that as a result of this spending review, not only is the schools budget protected in real terms but the total financial support for education, including childcare and our extended further and higher education loans, will increase by £10 billion. That is a real-terms increase for education, too” (Hansard).

However, a simple analysis shows that education has faced cuts.  If we look at education as a proportion of GDP  it gives a sense of what proportion of our national income is being spent on public education. The following chart shows that education spending has been cut considerably since 2010.


In conclusion, it seems that cutting spending on education is not going to help in reducing national debt. It might help in reducing deficit in the short-term, but deficit does not seem to be an issue. It is debt that is important. But more important still is improving the quality of education. I fear with cuts in funding and additional pressures on schools and teachers the current economic and education policy will do considerable harm to our education system. In my next post I will attempt further justification and begin to show how much increased spending on education would contribute to the nation’s finances.

Note: it is worth reading 20 February 2016 Andy Hargreave’s article in TES.

Other resources

Another article from 27 March 2016 The Independent Voices ‘Handbag economics’ and the other myths that drive austerity


Update 5 April 2016

Note: since writing this I have noticed that spending in secondary schools has been maintained in terms of proportion of GDP.

school spending percent gdp
School spending as a percentage of GDP (Secondary, pre-primary and primary, and tertiary)



However the Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis shows real terms per pupil spending cut over the life of the next parliament of 8%

ifs school spending
Source IFS


Educational innovation: debunking the public vs private myth

The following are some reflections on Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking the Public Vs Private Sector Myths in relation to public or state-funded education.

Innovation is a necessary part of human activity. It is about developing new systems and approaches to existing and evolving challenges of life. Innovation is necessary in schools and school systems. However, current economic and education policy, in England, suppresses innovation. This will have long term effects on the educational outcomes of learners currently in the system. It will have consequences to England’s international standing in terms of school effectiveness. It will have long-term economic effects.

Innovation is generally attributed to the private sector. Producing creative new products that result in high levels of demand in new markets. Typically, we might think of companies like Apple and Google. On the other hand we see the public sector as bureaucratic, grey and uncreative. This, according to Mazzucato, is incorrect. Mazzucato proposes that it is the public sector that is responsible for far-reaching innovation.

On reading this book I was struck by the implications of Mazzucato’s thesis for state education. What are the conditions of our education system in terms of innovation and enterprise? The conditions are not healthy, there is limited resource and space for the kinds of innovation that resulted in say Apple’s success. And, handing schools over to the private sector, or to not-for-profits undermines the conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship further. These outsourced solution have to be even more cost concious and risk-averse than the public sector. Education policy since the 1980s has been based on outsourcing service rather than innovation and enterprise. Policy has been about service delivery rather than developing solutions and innovations in systems, practice and pedagogy.

Mazzucato discovered in her research of innovation that the private sector is risk averse, while the public sector provides opportunity for the research and development of risky innovations. The private sector fears failure, the public sector does not. Importantly, Mazzucato shows that public funding and public projects were the source of the major business successes of Apple, Google, green technology and the pharmaceutical industry. Companies have used innovations developed in public projects and through publicly-funded initiatives to develop considerable private sector success.

Mazzucato argues that that is within the public sector that creative risky blue-sky innovation takes place. It is the private sector that is effective in turning innovation into products and developing markets. This is fundamentally at odds with the received wisdom of the grey bureaucratic public sector and the innovative private sector.

What are the implications for public education (and for the health service, for that matter)? It means that underfunding schools, overworking teachers, underfunding research and development is unlikely to result in the kinds of innovation that will ensure that education continues to develop at a rate consistent with the rest of the world. It means that our understanding of learning in the context of schools will not keep up with progress in other areas. It could be that learning suffers because of it. This will ultimately undermine future economic growth nationally, regionally and internationally.

Since the inception of mass state-funded education in England and the UK we have struggled to develop prevalent traditional pedagogy and practice. We have struggled to take advantage of technological innovation, simply because of the lack opportunity to experiment with and create new pedagogies, practices and systems. Most of all, schools have struggled to respond to the changing needs of society.

Successive governments have been afraid to make the case for and support public-sector innovation. More recently, government have opted to outsource education to the private sector or not-for-profit organisations. Each of which are risk averse and by nature not able to deliver innovation at a rate and scale that we need. We need to rethink the role of public and private in state education. We need to think about how best to promote innovation.



Article in Huffington post 28 March: Stop Innovating in Schools. Please.



Throwing money at a broken system: a response to the increased bursaries for trainee mathematics teachers

Headteachers have been talking about a teacher recruitment crisis over the last year. Trainee mathematics teachers on last year’s Cambridge PGCE programme were being offered interviews well before Christmas. In fact two trainees accepted offers before Christmas, the remainder accepted offers soon into the new year. As course tutor I recieved a stream of phone calls and emails from headteachers to see if anyone was looking for a job. In all it was evidence of unprecedented demand.

The Department for Education (DfE) have been reluctant to acknowledge a recruitment crisis. Saying things like recruitment is challenging because of the buoyant economy; politicking with a smug claim that recruitment difficulties are merely a consequence of effective Government. However, there has been at least some recognition of the seriousness of the situation. Today the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, announced increases in bursaries [1] for trainee teachers. For trainee mathematics teachers with a mathematics degree (or in a subject with a significant proportion of mathematics), if they have a lower second or higher, they can receive a bursary of £25,000 tax free while they are training.

The tragedy in this is that Nick Gibb fails to recognise that our initial teacher education system is now broken. These measures are reactive and do not address the underlying problems. To pretend that they are anything other is an insult to those committed professionals working in initial teacher education and to those headteachers desperately trying to recruit mathematics teachers. The Conservative Government, and the Coalition Government previously, have embarked on an unrelenting pursuit of ideology-driven privatisation of the education system. As part of this process they have marginalised and denigrated the role of universities in initial teacher education. This has severely undermined the recruitment of mathematics teachers. Mathematics teachers appreciate the managed transition from study to teaching (or from another career) that university-led partnerships of initial teacher training offers. But this is only part of the story.

In an attempt to promote School Direct, instead of allowing prospective trainees to make their own minds up about the best way into teaching, the Government has created a confusing and misleading recruitment system. I fear this has put off potential trainee teachers, especially those that are at the early stage of making a decision.

Finally, I think the message coming from schools is of a demoralised profession that is forced into a preoccupation with high-stakes testing, unreasonably high workloads and an emphasis on accountability-driven performativity in place of a focus on pupils, their education and community.

The idea that a booming economy is undermining teacher recruitment is at best hopelessly and misguidedly optimistic at worst simply deluded. The promise in 2010 that ‘teachers know best’ and that the profession should be trusted was an utter lie. It was simply a means to disguise the sheer scale of the privatisation agenda which the Conservative party had covertly committed themselves to.

What would be welcome is for the Government to acknowledge they have made mistakes and that all stakeholders should be consulted in an attempt to repair the system. However, I fear their idealogical mission will not permit this kind of principled reflection.


  1. https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/bursaries-and-funding

Teacher activism, teaching unions, neo-liberalism: divided and conquered

While I was a teacher in Cleethorpes and studying for an MEd with the Open University, I read a paper by Judyth Sachs about teacher activism, The Activist Professional [1]. She argued the means to reform state-funded education is through teacher activism. That teachers take the lead in professional and educational decision making. That they become vocal and assertive. And to bring about reforms in education, changes need to be led and implemented by those closest to practice, the teachers. Educational reform is only effective and sustainable through bottom-up activism.

I believed very much in teacher activism then as I do now.

All but a very few of my colleagues then believed in professional activism or that they had professional authority in their classrooms. Authority, for many teachers, was with the headteachers, local authorities and policy-makers. You see in the early to mid noughties, accountability was on the increase, examination results were becoming mission critical, Ofsted inspections were becoming critical to sustaining and developing a headteacher’s career. Local authorities were under increasing pressure to show improvement in the schools that they were responsible for. They also had a responsibility to implement the government curriculum and pedagogy programme: the National Strategies.

The school I was teaching in in the first half of the noughties was placed in special measures [2]. The headteacher resigned and a temporary replacement was appointed. A great deal of pressure was placed on teachers to teach in a particular way using a three-part lesson. We were expected to produce considerable documentation for each lesson, which was checked at random to ensure compliance. We were frequently observed and lessons were graded using Ofsted criteria. We even had an inset day in which teachers were placed in particular groups according to their Ofsted grade.

The acting headteacher was under pressure to show that the school was improving, that teaching and learning was improving and that the school leadership had capacity to improve further. His approach was to impose a regime of obedience and uniformity. This had little or no bearing or even consideration of developing effective teaching and learning. It was expedience in reaction to demanding accountability measures. Within the year I resigned and was offered a post in a neighbouring school. A permanent headteacher was found but the school has never really recovered. In subsequent years it has closed and reopened twice as a new school. The number of pupils at the school has never recovered to the levels that it had before it was placed in special measures.

There was a degree of outrage amongst teaching staff, the headteacher was demanding excessive workloads, feedback was brutal and not developmental. Yet, even in the well attended union meetings teachers would not take collective action. They were frightened. In the past, teachers had stood shoulder to shoulder to defend not only their working conditions but also their professional judgement in the class. Although many of my colleagues were members of a union, there was an unwillingness to collectively challenge what was going on the school and the inappropriate treatment by the inspectorate. Unionism and dispute had been denigrated and humiliated in the 1980s. First images and stories of union dominance in the 1970s, the final humiliation in the 1980s, particularly characterised by television images of the miners’ strike. By the noughties union action had been demonised, furthermore neoliberal individualism was divisive and encouraged colleagues to pursue self-interest over collective action. Unionism as a vehicle for teacher activism had been compromised.

Through the latter part of the decade Michael Gove was planning the Conservative’s education policy. In his white paper, The Importance of Teaching, published shortly after the Coalition Government took power in 2010, he weaved freemarket ideology into a vision of a teacher-led education system. He marginalised the teaching unions, the local authorities and university schools and faculties of education. The settlement on offer to headteachers was autonomy, the freedom to run their schools with minimal state intervention, even though we know from international data that school autonomy does not necessarily lead to improvement. He said to teachers, they know best. It was but a shallow offer of professional autonomy because accountability remains master. He cast the unions, universities and local authorities as “the blob”, they were a barrier to school and professional autonomy. Gove was effective in delivering a private freemarket ideology, but hiding it beneath a discourse of institutional and professional freedom.

As he rejected the so-called blob, he identified with neo-traditional teachers who had become well known through social media. They shared some common views about curriculum and pedagogy, rejecting progressive ideas favouring traditional authoritarian education and classroom practice. As a result the neo-traditional tweachers and teacher bloggers became the new teacher activist movement. They have become the voice of teacher autonomy.

Certainly this activism has created interest amongst the profession. No one can deny the success of movements like Research Ed. However, I do have a concern about the neo-traditional agenda that is being put forward by a number of these new social media activists. This reflects Gove’s ideology, with the teacher taking a traditional authoritarian role in classrooms and that curriculum and pedagogy has an emphasis on facts and fluency. More clearly emphasised is what neo-traditional approaches are not about, neo-traditional activisit often define their project in terms of it not being progressive, constructivist, featuring groupwork or discovery learning. Indeed their activism, they often characterise as being driven to escape progressive ideas that have been thrust on them by experts (e.g. academics and local authority consultants).

So where I have concern with neo-traditional social media teacher activism is in its narrowness of perspective. Its rejection of educational scholarship, ambivalence towards the importance of local democracy in education and ambivalence toward teaching unions. I fear they campaign for a false professional freedom, what is more it is dangerously aligned with freemarket and privatisation ideology which has the potential damage our education system.

Activism should not be progressive or traditional, it should not marginalise stakeholders such as the university schools of education, but should be pressing for a democratic education system, focussing on social justice, equality and high-quality learning outcomes. In order to achieve this, activists need to focus on the standing of the profession, its capacity to act collectively, to argue confidently using scholarly discourse. The profession needs to ensure that it can offer professional justification for what individual teachers do in their classrooms and influence how the education system is structured and organised. A strong activist teaching profession is symbiotic with teaching unions and academics. Teachers need to have voice alright, but they need the organisation and discourse to make it heard and deliver the argument. Acitivism needs to be campaigning against the real oppressor, that is policy that is ideologically focussed on privatisation, and accountability systems that work to support the agenda of political masters. The enemy in this is not educational scholarship, the teaching unions or local democracy.

[1] Sachs, J. (2000). The activist professional. Journal of Educational Change, 1(1), 77–94. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1010092014264

[2] Special measures is the lowest rating given by the inspectorate, Ofsted. A school is monitored regularly until improvements have been moved.