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Gerard Toplass

The new educational landscape

What does the future hold for education with the new government in place asks Gerard Toplass from Frillo?

Posted by Hannah Oakman | May 20, 2015 | People, policy, politics

Schools may have slipped down the wider media agenda since the years of ‘Education, Education, Education’, yet they still remain a crucial factor for the 1.3 million educational staff (that’s just over 2% of the UK population) and the 8 million+ pupils and their parents all over the country. Now that the Conservatives have an overall majority, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan can be confident of delivering on the pledge she has made that there will be “no rowing back” on the Government’s reform agenda for schools during the lifetime of this Parliament.

The goals

·       ‘Free Schools’ are perhaps the Tories most focused educational goal. By 2020, Cameron aims to have created at least another 500 ‘Free Schools’ in the UK.

·       Immediate support for all failing schools - this means any with an OFSTED report labelled as ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. How will they do this? By converting a potential 1 in 5 schools into academies.

·       New targets for reading, writing and maths, ensuring that the ’3 Rs’ are strictly adhered to.

·       David Cameron put his foot down and said ‘no’ to any new grammar schools, but he has left open the possibility that existing ones could continue to expand.

Teachers’ minds are likely to be focused elsewhere. Their biggest worry will be over the cuts in education they expect to see in this Parliament - bringing redundancies, increased class sizes and reduced subject options in the sixth-form.  The Conservatives have promised to maintain spending for schools at its present level but have made no provision for a real terms increase to cover inflation.

For parents of school age children, we expect to see an increasing interest in their own involvement with schools budgetary decisions. We recently commissioned polling company Censuswide, to survey 1000+ parents of school age children across the country. The results indicated that 52% believed parents should be allowed to work alongside the school to help decide what their child’s school budget should be spent on. 44% also thought the PTA should get more involved. The Tories ‘Free Schools’ priority will see parents and teachers become more directly involved in decision making, although the school will still be funded by the state.

According to a recent Guardian article, ensuring all pupils reach basic levels of achievement 'could boost the economy' with a potential growth estimate of £2tn by 2095. According to the survey, 66% of parents still believe their child’s school could be spending their budget in a better way, with 62% agreeing more budget should be focused on the Maths department – indicating parent’s should be pleased to see the new targets around reading, writing and maths that are on the way.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Education sector purchasing supplies, factors such as price, delivery, quality and availability are often secondary - or in many cases ignored - despite the Government’s often stated drive for best value and their so-called commitment to ‘Value for Money’. The vast majority of survey respondents (86%) expressed great trust in the people making budget decisions at their child’s school, but 35% doubted they knew where to shop around for the best deals.

Like the SME sector, most education sector purchasers' buy principally on whether or not the purchase is EU compliant - i.e. whether or not the purchase meets with the complex EU procurement rules. These rules are biased towards big companies (not many SMEs have the resources to follow the rules), purchasing is often not promoted electronically, and despite the fact that many buyers in schools are more savvy purchasers than ever before (i.e. using online purchasing at home), their hands are often tied.  They are ‘encouraged’ to use out-dated, antiquated and inefficient suppliers, often set up by the Public Sector themselves, and access to purchasing routes for innovative, small and new suppliers are unavailable.

Perhaps this new government will help facilitate much needed changes to how the public sector market-place works, allowing education buyers to search a growing range of products and services which are more cost effective. This will give buyers access to companies and suppliers that are focussed on education, and the needs of schools and colleges. 

Big changes are coming. It will be interesting to see how clearly these align to the concerns of parents and school staff.

Gerard Toplass is Founder & CEO of Frillo - www.frillo.co.uk

 

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