Friday, 13 February 2009

Budget 3: Education

The administration have been at pains to point out their spending on education. But there is a problem here. We are operating an educational model that is hugely inefficient. For example, we have around 34,000 places in primary schools and only 25,000 pupils. That is an astonishing inefficiency costing us dear in overheads. Worse, the administration are planning to bring in a school rationalisation programme which will reduce over provision of places. But this will be time consuming, very costly and locally unpopular. It will take considerable political courage.

So what is the Conservative answer?
  1. We need to open the door to other forms of non-fee-paying schooling. The Local Authority has proved by its huge inefficiencies and very significant failings, particularly to children from poor backgrounds, that it is not always best placed to provide education.
  2. Edinburgh Council needs to explore other means of providing education. Other countries and other parts of the UK use specialist providers, responsive to parent's wishes, who bring excellence using different methods and resources.
  3. Edinburgh Council needs to provide opportunities for other types of financing education - such as donors, educational trusts, benefactors.
  4. In particular Edinburgh Council needs to explore other options which will better meet the needs of failing pupils - such as Pioneer Schools as proposed in the Centre for Social Justice's Breakthrough Britain report. There are good ideas contained in the Parent Power report from Reform Scotland.
  5. New thinking in this area would provide opportunities to reduce the inefficiencies (eg over provision of places) and introduce competition into education which can be expected to drive up standards.

The administration have called this a radical budget. Alas, it is certainly not that. New thinking is needed here to safeguard the education of our children. More of the same is not an option in the very difficult situation the administration finds itself in.

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