David Cameron has today been refreshingly honest about his plans for school funding in England: budgets will be flat, which (when you factor in inflation) will mean a drop of 7 per cent over the next parliament. Cue much mockery from Labour. But what will this mean for the future of education quality? Not very much, if the experience of the Labour years is anything to go by. Under Blair and Brown, school spending more than doubled while England hurtled down the world education performance tables. So if doubling the budget didn’t help, then why should freezing it hurt?
The strange thing about education is that it's not so responsive to cash. A brilliant teacher is (alas) paid pretty much the same as a bad one. So extra money doesn’t mean better quality of tuition - which has proven to be the case domestically and abroad. Pushing extra cash into the schools system just doesn't give better results.
When Department for Education commissioned Deloitte to look at the relationship between spending and school attainment, its report (here, pdf) revealed that there is no relationship. And here’s the key graph, showing the relationship (or lack thereof) between spending per pupil and results at Key Stage 4.
Deloitte's (coded) conclusion was that the Liberal Democrats can forget about their pupil premium making the blindest bit of difference. The system just doesn't work that way.
This was backed up by a recent OECD study (pdf). Its conclusion:
Trend data from 2003 to 2012 show that there is no relationship between increases in expenditure on education and changes in performance, either among high-spending or low-spending countries. Mexico, for example, is among the countries and economies with the greatest improvement in average mathematics performance between 2003 and 2012, but its level of expenditure remained stable between 2001 and 2011. Similar improvements in average performance were observed in Poland, where per- student cumulative expenditure nearly doubled during the period.
The OECD also drew up a version of the Deloitte graph, showing standardised performance in maths (x-axis, below) and cash per pupil (y-axis). There is no correlation.
There is plenty that you can do to help schools recover: last week I spoke to pupils in Oasis Academy in Croydon - it's an Ofsted-rated 'outstanding' school and pupils there told me how it used to be so rough that the riot police with shields would pay the occasional visit.
Oasis Academy is vindication of the Blair-era reforms. David Cameron needs to press on with this reform, with more Academies and more Free Schools. Failure to do so would pose a far greater risk to education in England.