While the details of the spending review were being announced, I was having lunch at an innovative school project aiming to re-engage 16- to 19-year-olds with education. By the time I came out it was all over, I had a feeling of dread, as if standing on the edge of a 10-metre diving board.
My first reaction to the news that the education department was to be cut by only 3.4% was one of confusion. Should I be pleased that it was so much less than other departments? The pupil premium was trumpeted as a major gain: was I being ungrateful in pointing out that the rest of the education budget hardly came out well? With a 12% cut in the non-schools budget, the losses will be far wider than the after-school provision, youth clubs, early years and post-16 that we already knew about. Projects to give needy families or children an extra hand up, enabling them to start to compete equally in the classroom, look vulnerable, funded as they often were on a short-term basis by the local education grant.
Individuals live in a world that crosses through all governmental departments; and cuts will be cumulative for many. A child who is deprived of sleep because they share a room with siblings, who is unable to complete their homework because there is no quiet space, who does not have the correct uniform because the washing machine is broken, will not perform well in school. They may even cause problems for the rest of the class – though let’s not fall into the trap of assuming it’s only the poor who are disruptive, as was done so carelessly last week.
Of course the review was driven by political ideology, and Labour’s would have been too, but was it really about “reform, fairness and growth” as the chancellor claimed? Reform may be needed, but fair reform comes as part of a careful process of reimagining, collaboration and strategic planning, not simply by cutting waste. Let’s hope the growth in education is not in the number of children needing to be served by the project I visited.
Helen Bonnick is a social worker and formerly a supervisor of school-home support workers
This article is published in the 4 November issue of Community Care magazine under the headline Reform May Spawn Wrong Sort of Growth