26 October 2006
COMMITTEE CALLS FOR CLARITY ON EDUCATION SPENDING
The Department for Education & Skills (DfES) has come under criticism for producing an Annual Report that fails to provide any comprehensive information on education spending.
MPs from the Education & Skills Select Committee criticise the alteration of chapter headings and layouts, and the omission of key tables making it 'virtually impossible to understand the thread of policy and funding.'
The Committee calls for the Department to be more transparent in its affairs, ensuring that 'information is presented...in ways which are consistent with previous years and which provide clarity about what is happening with expenditure.'
MPs believe the DfES should prove the effectiveness of its spending by finding a definitive way of calculating 'education productivity'.
The Committee conclude that without knowing whether investment is effective or not 'there is a risk, in the longer term, that the inability to demonstrate a measurable link between inputs and outputs will mean that taxpayers have no way of judging whether public resources are being well used. Such an outcome would be bad for taxpayers and, potentially, could undermine the electorate's willingness to fund public services.'
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, also comes under scrutiny for his declaration that he would match state school funding with the level of the private sector. MPs believe the policy to be more of 'an aspiration rather than having been developed with a timetable in conjunction with the DfES.'
The Committee points to estimates from the Institute for the Fiscal Studies that show it would cost £17 billion in real terms to close the gap, concluding that 'without a timescale to achieve the target or any definite commitment to increase expenditure, it is hard to be certain when the target could be met.'
MPs call on the Department to make sure the new schools' funding system (due to be put in place by 2008-09) is as comprehensible as possible so that head teachers and parents understand how funding decisions for their school are arrived at.
The committee also question the extent to which the Department will make the £4.3 billion efficiency savings required of it by the Gershon review. In particular, they remain sceptical of the Department's evaluation of non-cashable efficiency gains, such as a better use of teachers time, asking whether it's possible to give them an accurate monetary value.
Commenting, Committee Chairman Barry Sheerman said:
'Spending on education has increased significantly over the last few years, but greater clarity on where that money is going is urgently needed.
If the public are to have confidence that their money is being well spent. the Department's Annual Report must become transparent and consistent in its approach to education expenditure.
Schools must be freed of the complexity and opacity of the funding system, so that head-teachers, governors and parents alike, understand how funding decisions for their school have been made.'