Browns pledge to close gap falls short


Education spending has risen by an average of 3.9% per year in real terms under the Labour Government. This is substantially faster than under the Conservatives between 1979 and 1997 (1.5% per year), but only slightly faster than the long-run historical trend before Labour came to power (3.7% per year).  However, in the 2006 Budget, the then Chancellor Gordon Brown promised to increase state school spending per pupil to the level seen in the independent sector in 2005–06. However, cleverly, he attached no specific timescale to this pledge, so transforming, in effect, a pledge into an aspiration. Just as well though, that he didn’t fix any target dates. It is important to remember that achieving this pledge would not just imply closing the contemporaneous gap between the state and independent sectors. For the purposes of the pledge Mr Brown used the average day fee in day schools as a measure of spending per head across independent schools (which in 2005–06 was £8,500 in today’s prices).The Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that in 2010–11, state school spending per head is due to reach £6,670 in 2010–11 prices (including capital spending, the measure of spending per head in the state sector Mr Brown chose to use). Therefore, the government is  a long way off from meeting this  ‘pledge’  and, given that the government’s current spending plans, going forward, imply a real-terms freeze in schools, the IFS concludes that the  spending per head pledge is “ unlikely to be met in the near future” .Even the IFS can do understatement well.  And of course the performance gap between the Independent and state sectors has been increasing, not reducing since 1997, with  this gap greater in the UK than anywhere else in the world. Take for example A grades at A level .According to  Mike Creswell, the director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, in   the period 1997-2007  the gap  between independent and maintained sector pupils rose to 23.4 percentage points – a rise of almost 50 per cent in the 10-year period .

These and similar  statistics  led  Dr Anthony Seldon to conclude, in his recent  pamphlet, An End to Factory Schools(CPS 2010) that ‘Independent schools have improved more rapidly than state schools. The existing mix of policies to deal with the divide between independent and state schools will never succeed in closing the gap’


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