"Education, education, education" was how Tony Blair claimed to campaign to put classrooms at the top of the political agenda. A few years later it seems a bit hollow, as funding is now to be cut to the bone.
After years of saying they want 50% of young people to go to college, whether they want to or not. I always thought some people would prefer to go straight to work or become an apprentice but this didnt seem to be an option. And now they are running out of money, they are planning to cut down a degree from 3 to 2 years, devaluing the whole of British education.
Mind you under Labour there has been a major financial investment. Whether the money has been wisely spent is another question - but the cash has certainly been made available, with the government spending almost £1.2bn on education every week.
Between 1997 and 2007, the core "per pupil" funding has risen by 48% in real terms - or £1,450 more per year per child. There are now about 35,000 more teachers than in 1997 - reducing pupil-teacher ratios and class sizes in primary and secondary. Teachers' pay has risen by 18% in real terms, and heads have had a pay hike of 27%.
Another factor has been the huge increase in support workers, such as teaching assistants - up by 172,000. That's like recruiting an additional workforce that is bigger than the army, navy and air force put together. This means that there are now almost three quarters of a million people working in schools - and that in secondary schools there is one adult for every 11 pupils.
Anyone who has walked into a school, particularly in the last couple of years, will have seen school buildings renovated or replaced and the upgrades in information technology. Capital investment has increased eightfold since 1997. But while it might sound as though the cash is being bulldozed into education, seen from an international perspective the spending suddenly seems more modest. By the end of the decade, education will be receiving 5.6% of GDP - which compares to the 5.5% that is the current average for education in industrialised countries. It means a huge amount of cash has been spent to push us all the way up to average.
But have standards improved? Has the investment brought the promised advances?
When Labour entered office, another mantra was that it was about "standards not structures".
Educational achievement is a slow supertanker to turn around, with initiatives taking many years to work through the system. The first wave of pupils to have received the literacy hour throughout their primary school years still have not taken their GCSEs. More than one in five children have spent six or seven years in primary school without learning to read and write properly!
The 50 per cent target is still a long way from being met — this year only 38 per cent will go to university. Yet ministers are now threatening universities with grant cuts if they take on extra students.
Labour’s expansion of university education promised disaster from the beginning. The 50 per cent target had all the signs of being plucked from the sky for the 2001 manifesto with no regard to whether half the population is ready or even want an academic education.
Baron Mandelson announced that he was cutting university budgets by £135 million, can this be the same Government that has spent a decade trying to drive 50 per cent of young people into higher education and that, as recently as March — long after the black hole in public finances became obvious — announced a £150 million programme to open 20 campuses over the next six years?
Examples of two-year degree courses already running include one for higher level teaching assistants at Stroud College in Gloucestershire and a fast-track nursing degree at King's College London for those with a degree already.
The announcement of the cuts, which will see £518m lopped off university funding next year, provoked an outcry from vice-chancellors, students, lecturers and opposition MPs.
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