Medium Term Financial Plan
It is worrying that the proposed savings in education may result in lost jobs but the cuts go far deeper than is at first apparent. We were all under the impression that the education budget was supposed to be ring fenced, indeed the States Assembly recently voted to invest further. So how come it is now facing a £25 million cut? Is this what Nicola Sturgeon describes as ‘a whopper’?! We would all agree that the needs of every child on the island should be paramount so how do the proposed savings stand up to this fundamental benchmark? The fact that Jersey has one of the lowest education budgets in the world (2% GDP) is not an auspicious start.
When seeking to make efficiencies within a workforce the spotlight inevitably falls on staffing and work practices. It is a delicate operation trying to maintain services whilst seeking to balance the books. Schools receive their budget based on an age weighted pupil unit (A.W.P.U). It is a complicated formula (aren’t they all!) but for each child it averages out among the States secondary schools at around £6,500 per pupil.
The States subsidise fee paying schools (50%) and when you factor in fees paid, their A.W.P.U is significantly in excess of that in the States secondary schools. In 2014 public money give to the fee paying secondary sector amounted to nearly £8 million. There is a proposal to reduce this by three percent but think of how many more children would benefit if these schools were truly independent.
As in many government departments, education is rife with bureaucracy and resultant inefficiencies.
The approach adopted at head office in order to facilitate raising attainment brings with it press officers, data-analysts and professional partners, educational enforcers that tour schools Rottweiler like, making sure everybody is on message. A £100k saving here is hardly biting.
Around 1/5th of secondary schools are senior staff, all on generous timetables and very generous salaries. Having given teachers only a 1% rise the proposal is to increase differentials at a senior management level. How does this help the children in the classroom? Most of these posts are administrative and could be delivered by lower paid, non-teaching staff. Management finding jobs to do is nothing new. The proposals talk vaguely about making efficiencies, perhaps they will look here. Primary schools, although smaller, do not have such cumbersome management structures.
Messrs Bryans and Donovan are looking to address what some see as the archaic system of selection at fourteen, combining Hautlieu with Highlands to create a single F.E college. This would significantly reduce costs at a management level and open up choice for post sixteen and but then the proposals to cut financial support for students in H.E stifles any social mobility.
In September, the department is about to launch its ‘inclusion’ policy. They are to be commended for doing this but to get it right does not come cheaply. Off site ‘support’ is arguably more expensive than what is actually offered in situ as some schools are already reducing specialist expertise for the most needy. The 50% cut to JCCT; removal of funding for Brooke; increasing music tuition fees are all proposals that will affect the wellbeing of the vulnerable in society, despite the injection of the pupil premium. Something as innocuous as outsourcing cleaning and gardening contracts needs serious consideration. Are all these private contractors going to run the necessary police checks on their zero hour employees?
Getting quality (any!) teachers to come to the island is proving a challenge so cutting starting salaries for new teachers is not going to help recruitment. Turning to on-island training is fine but what is on offer at present does not meet the standards for the UK and many other countries at present. And what exactly is vacancy management? Does this mean not replacing teachers as they leave or using supply staff? This leads to larger classes and a shortage of expertise across all subjects, which is already an issue in schools.
In the education business plan 2015/18 there is a hint that state schools on the island could become more autonomous. Does this open the door for the much vaunted academies? These schools manage their own budgets. Perhaps Jersey might decide to go one step further and buy into ‘For profit schools’. Good housekeeping? Fiscal prudence? The whole exercise is morally bankrupt. There is no investment and it will still be the case that those least in need are the most heavily resourced.
There is another alternative, one that does not rely on slash and burn management, one that would fit into the economic orthodoxy that rules the island; Train and resource all teachers to a standard that would empower them (like doctors and lawyers). This would remove the need for top heavy management structures, expensive and inefficient bureaucracy, restrictive practices and overpaid (over here) advisors, with the needy having to rely on charitable hand-outs. Ensuring the highest teaching standards throughout would remove inequalities, raise attainment and simplify the whole system at no extra cost.