7th April 1995 at 01:00
A lot of eminent Tory MPs have been turning up on news programmes recently to explain that the reason why schools have got less money has nothing to do with the state of the economy. Heaven forbid that anybody should think such a thing. The money would be there in lashings if it were needed. But it isn't.

Schools have got to learn to be more efficient. It is reassuring to know that so many of our elected representatives are sufficiently well informed about the economics of education to make such a judgment. I am humbled to think of the hours they must have spent researching the way in which schools are run, particularly when there must be so many other calls on their time. How fortunate we are!

They bring a wealth of experience in the private sector that could prove invaluable in cutting costs and ensuring value for money. Used as I am to excess, I can scarcely count my blessings. It is a great pity that so little time was available for them to explain their ideas in any detail.

As a consequence, we can only speculate about exactly what it is that they think schools should be doing. How, for example, would they manage a budget that was 5 per cent smaller than in the previous year, even though the number of pupils in the school had risen? I appreciate that the problem differs slightly from anything they might have experienced in an industrial context where increasing production generates additional revenue, but the comparison is one that they would make, not me.

There are, they seem to be suggesting, three things that schools can do. The first is to dig into their reserves. Well, yes, that's a terrific idea and the first thing that any responsible LEA would have done to soften the blow when it had full control of the budget. But it's no longer quite as simple as that. Local management of schools has ensured that surpluses and deficits rarely coincide. The schools with money in the bank aren't necessarily the ones that have a problem.

It beggars belief that MPs sufficiently well informed about education to appear on national radio could be unaware of this. Perhaps they had in mind some imaginative solution which they didn't have time to explain, such as the introduction of a windfall tax on schools that are in the black at the end of the financial year.

That would soon put a stop to any unseemly prudence and it would make more money available for everybody else.

Or maybe they favour some kind of national charity to ensure greater equity, a sort of school aid whereby the wealthy schools hand over the money to the needy ones. What a wonderful opportunity that would be for the BBC to mount an educational telethon. No?

Second on the proposed list of remedies is better management of resources. It is difficult to know exactly what this means. In industry, most efficient savings are made either by abandoning those parts of the market where the rewards are small or by investing in more sophisticated technology. Somehow I don't think that it is either of these solutions that they have in mind. Perhaps there is a clue in the current vogue amongst right-wingers for more whole class teaching.

What difference does a few extra kids make when the lesson is delivered from the front. It would save a great deal of money. This theory certainly has its enthusiasts and stands up well, as long as you never actually go into a school.

The only other solution that has been touted is the one about cutting back on central administration. What, one wonders, was LMS all about if it wasn't this? There isn't much central administration left and very little money would be released for schools, even if it all disappeared overnight.

The claim was made on Radio 4 that one LEA had created 700 additional jobs in central administration over the past 12 months. That's two a day, including Sundays. Who believes such nonsense? It is a tribute to democracy that people who have so little acquaintance with the system and are so cavalier with the facts can still command time on air to urge their views, even if they are MPs.

So even the experts can't help. Never mind, the great thing about poverty is that it teaches you not to be profligate.

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