At a School Council Training Day, I had the unlikely opportunity to meet and question the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. Despite my expectations that he would dodge around every question fired his way, he responded in a surprisingly honest and straightforward manner. In this blog here, I hope to enlighten my readers to exactly what the government plans to do for Education, straight from – as it were – the horse’s mouth.
I was fortunate enough to be allowed the first question towards the RT Hon Michael Gove MP, and I asked him how, with all the new budget cuts, schools are expected to have funds for resources such as books, especially considering the new curriculum for GCSEs changes every few years. After thanking me kindly for my question, he proceeded to tell of how the funding for Education would not be cut, and would in fact be the most protected area of the country, alongside the NHS. However, there is to be a slight change. Whereas before schools would be given money and told where to spend it in what proportions, the money is now to some with ‘no strings attached’; meaning that schools will now be able to spend this money in whichever way they deem most affective.
Although this may sound good to most people – and for sure it is, as education’s funding is to remain the same, unlike most services and facilities around the country – the rise in inflation and cost of living means that this seemingly generous lapse in cutting is not as advantageous as it may be viewed to be.
The next question addressed the rumours of the government raising the school leaving age. Although these rumours are not exactly on the point, Michael Gove confirmed to us that they will be raising the ‘Education Participation Age’ to 18. This means that until the age of 18 (except of course in exceptional circumstances) everyone should still be in some form of education, whether it is trainings, apprenticeships or six form colleges. Hopefully, this will enable a decrease in youth unemployment rates; the government also hopes to free up some money in order to help this.
Next, an adorable primary school child (over who’s head you would assume that most of, if not all of, the government’s policy talk would go) asked why Palaeontology (the study of fossils) and Entomology (the study of insects) were not taught at a younger age. It was then revealed that there would be less of the ‘prescribed’ subjects, leaving more room for the flexible subjects. However, we were told that this meant there would be more rigorous classes and exams in these ‘prescribed’ subjects such as maths and science.
As exciting and enjoyable idea this may be, if schools have a larger range of choice for subjects they will need more teachers - this will cost more and if the money for schools is not increasing, how can this scheme be supported realistically?
After a rather rude and slanderous inquiry over the increase in university fees, Mr Gove first explained that no-one has to pay up front, or in fact at all until you begin to earn £21,000. Yet if you are going to university, it is – as a general rule – to improve your education so that you can achieve a better job that earns more money, so you are likely to end up earning more that £21,000; if you don’t then realistically there is little point in going in the first place. As well as this, new reports show that the more you earn, the more you have to pay back, and with averages of February last year showing average salaries for graduates fresh out of university to be around £25,000 a year, it seems a disadvantage to go to university, despite Gove’s assurances that ‘the answer is always yes’ when it comes to the big decision. Gove also told of how less than half of the population go to university, and although those who do go are said to be ‘bettering society’, those who don’t are paying for those who do. Michael Gove also told us (though I have to say that this is unconfirmed) that amongst the universities choosing to charge the highest fees of £9,000 are Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick, Durham, Surrey and Exeter.
Raised next was the discussion of apprenticeships. The government foresees more money being spent on apprenticeships, to secure more training places and remove the stigma of risk and paper work that comes with it, with Michael Gove saying that ‘[the government will] provide the money if [the company will] provide the training’ and that ‘what [the company thinks] is a gamble is actually an investment’.
The talk then turned to Key Stage 2 and 3 SATs – primary schools complaining about the year 6 SATs and the secondary schools asking why the year 9 ones were scrapped. Michael Gove explained that the Key Stage 2 exams were there both for the school and the individual students. He then went on to say that he worries that we rely too much on one set of measurements and that instead of removing them, we should in fact put more in. Also, these exams are to help secondary schools evaluate you when you first start (although they have, of course, access to other information and their own tests). However, the SATs at Key Stage 3 have been removed, in order to give teachers more flexibility, and in recognition of the fact that there are already external exams at GCSEs and A Levels; to have more in Year 9 was decided as too much. Nevertheless, we were told that the government still provides the SATs for both internal and external marking were anyone to be interested; although if I find a year 9 willing to take more exams, I will be surprised.
The talk was interesting and informative, if not everyone’s cup of tea. I can only hope that everything that the Secretary of State for Education said is followed through, despite its potential negative repercussions.