This campaign nails it – Education Minister John O’Dowd’s plan to shuffle money from schools in comparatively prosperous locations to schools in poorer ones may look good in the “Manual of Socialist Theory”, but there is no evidence it will do any good.
In fact, all the evidence suggests it will do quite a lot of harm. Good primary schools, like my local one, already run a tight ship and use that money to enhance children’s education already given to them by parents and other relatives and carers. Taking money away from those schools is like kicking a leg away from a table – it simply means that children currently being given a good all-round education both at home and at school will suddenly find it is not so all-round any more, because the school side will suffer.
Poorer performing primary schools are not poor performing because they lack funds. On the contrary, they are already comparatively well funded (as the campaign points out) through the additional money allocated to pupils who qualify for Free School Meals. If only money were the solution! The more straightforward problem is that without a community support base – i.e. without family and neighbours who see the value of education – educational outcomes will always be poorer.
For far too long, attempts at improving education (not just in Northern Ireland) have come out of some Socialist manual where it is all about schools and funding. In fact, a child’s education is about so much more than what goes on in school, and about so much more than money allocated on a graph. Without promoting education broadly in communities where outcomes are poorest, without equipping poorly educated parents to value education and educate their children at home (not just at school), and without recognising other educational needs (such as straightforward play in early years through to sports clubs and other leisure activities later on), then outcomes will not improve no matter how much money you throw at the problem.
Good policy requires a solid evidence base. On that basis, taking money away from already stretched good schools is an extremely bad policy.