The education debate has rumbled on longer than usual it seems this year in the aftermath of the annual GCSE/A level dumbing down standards debate. One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the mass investment from the Labour government is coming home to roost with little to show for itself. An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report today certainly backs this up. It states that despite a decade of reforms when education spending nearly doubled, exam results did little better than keep pace between 1996 and 2006. That is to say while spending on education increased by 83 per cent in cash terms from £27 billion in 1996 to £49.9 billion last year, productivity of state schools only increased by an average of 1 per cent. £23bn for a 1% improvement? This is the effectiveness of the tax and spend Labour government. They will bang on about increased investment and improving in standards but when you look behind the figures you have to ask, was it all really worth it? The answer is invariably no.
The Government talk as though mass investment can only be a good thing - and much of the electorate seem to buy it. But what they and many others fail to understand is that it represent terrible value for money and is by no means an effective nor efficient means to improve standards or a service. And I'm not just referring to education here, either. The same can be said of health, crime, transport and just about every other area of public service. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, sums up the government's attitude: “What this report makes clear is that productivity in education increased between 1996 and 2006." Yes, Jim Knight, it does make that clear. A £23bn investment for a 1% return.