Friday, 29 October 2010

Investing in the future

With the painful decisions on public spending now done, it is time to start thinking about how we can create new jobs in the future. One of the keys to creating new prosperity in the long term is strengthening education and it’s no surprise that spending on schools was protected in last week’s Spending Review.

There is to be a new Pupil Premium to ensure that more money goes to those schools supporting children from the most deprived areas so that they can employ the best teachers. There was also hope for those Schools in Camborne and Redruth who earlier this year had started working on plans to build new schools. The so called "Building Schools for the Future" programme introduced by the last government was extraordinarily wasteful. Schools were expected to spend millions on consultants before they could lay a single brick. It was costing twice as much to build a school in Britain than it was to build a school in Ireland and that means the money was not going very far. The scheme had to be scrapped.

But last week George Osborne announced a £16 billion fund to refurbish or rebuild 600 schools across Britain over the next few years. That could go a long way and makes far more sense than the old scheme. He also stripped away all of the ring fencing on capital grants to schools so that they will have far more control over how money is spent in their school. One of the things that infuriates head teachers at the moment is the fact that they have to go without important things they need because someone else has decided to spend their money on something they don't really need. Head teachers have been telling me is that when money is tight, we should just let them make the decisions about how it is spent.

The new government wants all parents to have the sort of choice that today only money can buy and this school term, the first wave of schools became academies, were set free from council control and given the money to manage their school as they see fit. The rest will follow in the years ahead. These newly independent schools will be free to all and publicly funded but they will have the freedom that today only private schools enjoy. They will have control over their curriculum and will be able to set terms and conditions for teachers so that they can reward and retain the best staff. The single most important factor determining school performance is strong leadership from the top and good teachers but all too often, good teachers leave the profession early and we need to do more to retain them.

Competition is good and the one thing that I have detected in our local schools is a healthy rivalry that goes beyond the sports pitch. We should harness it to give our children the best possible start in life.