Funding for schools
Of course, the most obvious talking point that comes from Budget announcements and discussions is that of funding. A notoriously polarising topic within the education sector for as far back as anyone can remember, the future of the funding of universities, and schools in particular, is anticipated with bated breath every autumn. Dr Jonathan Savage, Reader in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University said before the announcement was made, that, “The funding of our schools is precarious at best. The reallocation of £1.3 billion of funds within the DfE budget earlier this year has not provided any ‘extra’ resources to help schools fund the projected pay rises that will be implemented shortly. Unless new money is announced in the Budget, headteachers will have to fund anything between a 1% to 5% pay increase from existing budgets.”
The Budget does in fact include more funding, but not across the board. A boost for the funding of A Level maths has been promised, to the tune of £177m, as well as £84m for the training of 8,000 new computer science teachers. Other core subjects such as English, biology, chemistry, and physics, were conspicuously absent from the announcements.
There is, however, some provision for the training of teachers. But only for underperforming schools. The £40m fund has been allocated to ‘underperforming schools in England,’ and is worth approximately £1000 per teacher. This does not seem to address the issue of teacher pay rises to which Dr Savage was referring.
Some experts are heartened by this funding, though. Stephanie Baxter, Education Lead at the IET, commented, “As we are facing an engineering shortfall in the next decade, the financial boost for students studying the crucial engineering gateway subject of maths at A-Level is welcome news.” Stephanie went on to add, however, that funding for engineering should not be limited to a small cohort of STEM subjects. She said, “This is a small step in the right direction and there remains huge demand for engineers. We ultimately need to look at the focus on maths and physics, as studying engineering is creative and should not be limited to only those who have taken these subjects.”
The true measure of a revolution is how it impacts the everyday lives of people. Technology without implementation or relevance to the problem it seeks to fix, means nothing. – Tom Williams, CEO, Certua Protect
Tech in context
The focus on tech was also received with some ambivalence. Although the promise of funding for areas such as AI, 5G, and digital skills distance learning courses, was a positive outcome, the lack of specific links between tech and education were noticed. Tudor Aw, UK Head of Tech sector at accountancy firm KPMG said, “The UK has strengths in ‘old-school’ tech sub-sectors such as software, IT services and semi-conductor technology. Tech investment should therefore be made in education, regulation, tax and other incentives to ensure our strength in the tech sector is broad-based and not just those areas that sit at the top of the latest hype curve.”
This call for the rooting of tech provision in education was shared by many, with the worry that the Budget was focusing too much on ‘trendy’ tech, rather than ensuring a sturdy base for the future of the UK’s tech economy – namely, making sure that there is a strong provision of well-trained individuals to take on necessary jobs in the tech sector in the coming decades.
Some positive outcomes have already been seen from this year’s Apprenticeship Levy initiative, and the flexibility of this Levy was addressed by the Chancellor as part of the Budget announcements. This has come as welcome news to businesses, and Mike Rogerson, UK Chief Operating Officer at engineering company WSP said, “I’m pleased to hear the Chancellor is open to review the flexibility of the Apprenticeship Levy going forward, as this would give us the freedom to spend our levy on even more training opportunities, from one-off courses for existing staff to refresher traineeships for those who have taken a career break, to enhance the knowledge of our growing pipeline of engineering, planning and technical talent. We look forward to a continued dialogue with Government as we explore solutions to challenges like the funding cap for engineering degree qualification delivery.”
So, inevitably, there are pros and cons to the Budget for edtech. Though there is some advancement in acknowledging the skills gap and the role of STEM education in the future of the UK’s tech economy, from the point of view of many, there is certainly more that can be done to ensure our future workforce is suitably prepared to advance the UK’s standing in tech and engineering.
Changes are being called for, and ensuring that investment in education and tech are being used to better the UK in some way, rather than merely being promised as contextless cure-alls, is essential. As Tom Williams, CEO of investment firm Certua Protect, commented, “The true measure of a revolution is how it impacts the everyday lives of people. Technology without implementation or relevance to the problem it seeks to fix, means nothing.”