Tuesday, June 30, 2009

George Osborne: we weren't exactly telling the truth when we said that we would protect education

And so now we know - education is just as vulnerable as anything else under a Conservative administration.

In fairness, at least George is telling us the truth (probably). it could be that he'll only cut 8% of the budget on the Janus principle (if you tell someone you going to cut their arms and legs off, they'll be grateful if you only cut their legs off...). On the other hand, he might feel that we'll say, "Only 10%? Oh well, that's not too bad.", and it will be too late to stop him lopping 12% off of the education budget.

Ed Balls is denying that there will be any cuts at all, and that George is going to be to the education budget as Freddy Krueger was to the population of Elm Street. It seems likely, therefore, that one, if not both of them, is lying.

Throwing money at education hasn't had a huge effect on the education standards of our young people, although money did need to be spent on the infrastructure following years of Conservative neglect. Strangely, salaries for teachers and lecturers don't appear to have increased much either. The big growth industry is testing, which distorts what is taught and how, discourages innovation and initiative and costs a lot of money.

You can't just slash spending though. New buildings funded through the Private Finance Initiative still need to be paid for, and in a world where industries that require muscle relocate to countries where muscle is cheap and, in some cases, dispensable, you need a more highly educated workforce to take advantage of the new opportunities.

The debate appears to be centred wholly on how much it costs, rather than what you want to achieve through education. Indeed, what role should the state have in educating our children? Should it dictate what our schools, colleges and universities produce in the way of skilled graduates? If it doesn't, will the market step in to fill the breach?

What we need is a real debate on what we want from our primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. What we're going to get, I fear, is a choice between more state interference from Labour and an opting out of responsibility from the Conservatives. There is an opportunity for a genuinely liberal response if we have the courage to take it. Unfortunately, we're only going to get a soundbite with which to do so...

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