Top heavy education?

In 2009-10 the education budget runs to £66,700,000,000. £10,000,000,000 of that goes on teachers pensions. £6,500,000,000 is spending on new and improved buildings.

The Education department itself spends £182,000,000 on administration, with 2,842 staff. All this in what is meant to be a decentralised service, run by Local Education Authorities, Boards of Governors and Headteachers. 20 staff members are paid more than £95,000 a year.

As if the central team were not enough, there are numerous national quangos. There is the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, the National College for School leadership, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Training and Development Agency for Schools, Ofsted and the Sector Skills Development Agency amongst others.

There is substantial overlap between central staff, regional staff in Offices of the regions, and the LEAS. There is also scope for amalgamation and reduction of the national quangos. We should move to a more decentralised service, where the demand for central highly paid staff is much reduced.

The government has managed to combine large increases in centralised bureaucracy, circulars, regulations and requirements with overlapping layers of government and intrusive national quangos. The aim should be to free state schools of much of this burden, leaving them freer to make their own decisions,and to attract pupils by their excellence. Healthy competition between schools, giving parents and pupils more choice, is the best way to drive standards up. We could then save much of the money spent on Labour’s top heavy top down bureaucracy. I have always favoured ending the apartheid in English education. All schools should be independent, with free places for all in independent schools that offer a good standard and good value for money. There should be more effective choice for parents. The rich could still choose to spend more of their own money on schools of their choice.

As we will see as we go through the accounts fo the main departments, certain themes are common to all. They have too many quangos, they have too many expensive top staff, they bloat their advertising and spin budgets, and too much is done in the centre. A purge at the top would be a good start for any cost cutting exercise.


  1. DominicJ
    July 30, 2009

    Making schools “Independant” would only work as long as the schools minister can resist interfering.

    A legal right to withdraw a child and a childs share of funding is a much more robust option.

    And of course, a school is a school, independant or not. Theres just not that much that can be done there.

    Whats the best way to learn a “modern foreign language”?
    2 hours a week, 35 weeks a year, for 5 years in a French class?
    A 2 week intensive course in Chinese, then going to china for 12 weeks.

    Both of those take up the same proportion of educational time over the 5 year secondary school period, only one could occur in a “school”, sadly, the other would be much better, for the student, not for the French Teacher, obviously.

    But then, who’s education spending supposed to benefit?

    Assuming the age spread of 0-14 year olds is the same as 5-18 year olds we should have 10,854,360.00 children in education.

    The budget divided by the number of children is £6,145 or £5,223, depending on who pays for pensions.
    Is that £10b for already retired teachers, probably, or those currently working, if its already retuired teachers, well, that sucks for todays kids, if its to pay contribuions for currently working teachers, then thats a cost those who withdraw shouldnt bear.

    But, lets use the lower number, £5223. A teacher, after 5 years of teaching, earns £30k, so thats the budget for 6 children.
    My Partner, who happens to be a teacher, could easily teach 8 children in our living room, they would be a class a third of the size they could expect in the state sector, and there would be a £10,000 budget for equipment, trips and specialists, every year.
    Think that would be a rubbish school?
    Well your free to send your kids elsewhere, or educate them at home.

  2. Susan Carey
    July 30, 2009

    There are costs in training and supporting school governors but they are unpaid. Yes, central costs are too high and yes there’s massive room for improvement but don’t list governors with those earning salaries as they don’t get a bean.

  3. Richard
    July 30, 2009

    This should be very fertile territory for the Conservatives in the coming election. Education is a massive area of failure by Labour, and the centrally-directed social engineering which is the main objective of Labour’s education policy is the culprit. But we know Britain is capable of offering world class education – after all many foreigners send their children to private schools here (but nobody on the other hand moves to the UK for the state education – they rather emigrate to avoid it!). The simple solution is to emulate the Swedish model which has been revolutionary: the money follows the child and goes directly to the school. Parents can choose any school in the country. The scope for savings through cutting the LEAs and central govt bureaucracy will be enormous, and the loss of this dead weight entirely beneficial. Michael Gove should be really bold on this one and should stick to his guns if elected. It will be a tough fight though, as this will be bitterly resisted by the education establishment inc the bureaucrats and the NUT (the largest single source of Labour party members).

  4. A.Sedgwick
    July 30, 2009

    Another excellent piece – as previously written it is blindingly obvious to both of us that schools should be independent. It is an example of the divisive nature of socialism and the desire to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. The format of private schools should be followed with state schools given an individual budget free to be used by the head and governors. Staff and parents would be energised by the “ownership” of the their school. Local government involvement should be slashed and reduced to an advisory and support function. Such a transition would take a number of years with private schools helping and twinning rather than the likes of the Lady Leather trying to kill them off for all but the genuinely wealthy.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    July 30, 2009

    Your departmental reviews are, not surprisingly, sounding a little repetitive. Massive amounts of money spent, lots of staff, multitudes of quangos. A vision emerges of each department as a monolithic organisation with no clear lines of responsibility. It is hard to imagine any effective departmental management and this leads to poor performance. The scale of the task of reforming these monoliths, and at the same time reducing their size, is immense and I do wonder if your party is truly prepared for such a challenge.

  6. Andrew Duffin
    July 30, 2009

    The current situation is a perfect example of Pournelle’s Iron Law, reproduced here with acknowledgements to (but without the specific permission of) the great Dr. Jerry Pournelle:

    “Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. ”

    Notice that he even uses State Education as his prime example!

  7. no one
    July 30, 2009


    agree with everything you say here

    but you also need a message of hope for the parents forced to live on a sink estate upset and worried about the schools their kids will be forced to go to

    you also need a message of hope for the middle class parents who cannot afford a private education for their kids, but would like to live in an area which only has rubbish state schools, who are currently forced to move address simply to get their kids into a half decent school

    you even need a message of hope for the cleverest poor kids struggling to do their best in bad surroundings, with little law and order, and useless schools, for the grown up equivalents of these kids look at the younger versions of themselves and see how much harder it is to make it out with success than it was 25 or more years ago, this is a big set of stakeholders

    you need a message of hope for the folk who have had a decent education from the old polys who are so tired of having their education rubbished that many of them move abroad

    and you know when some choice is introduced if my kid is a natural carpenter or similar and not accademic i want to be able to choose an outstanding school where he can get a fantastic grounding and not the nope hope schools that the secondary moderns often were, we need good carpenters, and we need to treat those kids well and bring them up with hope and respect

    you need a message of hope that the equality agenda will move on to genuine hope and choices and chances for all, not held back by accent or ancestors, and give equality to the white poor folk as much as to anyone else, goodness only knows this is one of our biggest weaknesses as a society, a few knee jerk reactions to the bnp is not enough, we need to wipe out the bnp by showng with our actions that there really is hope and chances for all

    good luck

  8. Demetrius
    July 30, 2009

    Back around the time of local government reorganisation in the 1970’s, there was a school of thought that school education should be largely in the hands of fairly local elected school boards, subject only to basic inspection. The whole system has gone crazy since. Anything would be better than what has been going on in the last ten years.

  9. oldrightie
    July 30, 2009

    Given the paucity of well educated youngsters, where does all the money go?

  10. Acorn
    July 30, 2009

    Your phrase, ” … certain themes are common to all” makes you wonder about the structure of these huge government “silo” departments. Silo structures lead to silo mentality, each unconcerned of the affect of its actions on other silos. Silo departments only ever look up or down, never across the organisation; usually have continuous “turf” wars.

    A “Systems Thinking” application would probably reduce the vertical size of these departments; that is, they would chop the tops off and break up the lower levels to specific identifiable task groups. Strategy and Themes (not operational detail) management, would be moved up, in this case, to Cabinet level. Task groups have to cooperate to achieve the strategy / theme; individually they don’t have the whole tool box to do it on there own.

    The DCSF strikes me as a classic silo department. Only two thirds of the £67 billion is actually spent on the S bit (schools); the rest goes on the C and F bits.

    Give the kids a voucher system that they can spend in any school they can get into. On a fag packet calculation, that voucher would be worth about £4,100 a year; the DCSF appears to be costing us around £6,600 a year, based on about ten million school kids.

  11. Adam Collyer
    July 30, 2009

    All that is quite right, John. But I would add that the main issue in our Education system is not so much the structures (though they are bureaucratic and inefficient) as the attitudes and culture. There is a severe lack of discipline in many of our schools. The teachers are afraid to confront unruly pupils (sorry, “students”) in case they are had up for abuse. Many lessons have become ordeals in which the teacher’s aim is simply to get through the lesson unscathed rather than to actually teach something.

    I have visited a school in Ukraine, where the education system is based on the old Soviet system. I sat in on a class. The pupils all sat facing the teacher, as opposed to sitting with their mates in groups chatting. When their attention wandered even for a second, the teacher was on to them immediately. What went on in that class would have been regarded as brutal and inhuman in a British school. But the outcome was that every child in that class learned something in that lesson. What’s more, the kids were happy and cheerful.

    So how do we get rid of the tired old-fashioned 1960s style “child centred education” that grips our teaching profession and has actually betrayed a generation of British youngsters? That is the big question in education today, and I don’t have an answer.

  12. BrianSJ
    July 30, 2009

    The whole idea of the university needs a good look, and I suspect that the people in charge at the moment are the last people to help that.

    UK academia has become a playground for targets etc and the proper purpose of higher education has become completely lost.

    Good post, as usual, many thanks.

  13. Bishop Hill
    July 30, 2009

    For anyone who is interested there is a breakdown of the whole £67 billion by supplier on my website here.

    See also comments on the details in later posts.

  14. Martin
    July 30, 2009

    John – The pensions apartheid is here for all too see. The figures you quote are amazing. Those on low wages and or mediocre pensions have to pay for public sector pensions.

    Well I think the only solution (one I suspect you will not approve of) is a higher tax on those with above average pensions to help fund better basic pensions.

    I’ve always thought it wrong that a retired private sector worker on say 90 Pounds a week state pension plus say 90 Pounds a week private pension has to subsidise (via Council Tax) Teachers Pensions of 300 Pounds a week teachers pension plus 90 Pounds a week state pension. (This assumes a Teacher on a final salary of 27k – which isn’t an unfair guess these days…)

    Any government wanting to tackle this pensions apartheid will have to face down the public sector gravy train beneficiaries.

  15. TomTom
    July 30, 2009

    All schools should be independent, with free places for all in independent schools that offer a good standard and good value for money.

    I would agree. Unfortunately Conservatives have been content to utilise private education and do nothing to promote grammar schools or quality and Labour has its public school sans-culottes who continue to buy education but deny academic education to the impecunious.

    Why have only 5-6 Secretaries of State for Education since 1944 been products of State Schools ?

  16. Brian E.
    July 30, 2009

    The bureaucracy was there 30 years or so ago – it is steadily increasing.
    I remember when I was a parent governor of our local middle school and we were told by “the office” (the local council) that we would have to reduce staff by the equivalent of half a teacher because of falling rolls and thus retain the same pupil to teacher ratio. “Fair enough”, said I, “Will the staff in the Office also be reduced pro-rata?”.
    “Oh no, we’re having to take on extra staff to deal with the redundancies”. They didn’t like my insistence that my question and their answer was recorded in the minutes for distribution to parents!
    No doubt this still goes on.

  17. Mike Stallard
    July 30, 2009

    What the Socialists want to do is to centralise education in London. They have, cleverly, kept the appearance of localisation.
    The other thing they want is fewer, bigger schools. These are much easier to control and much easier to administer.
    In self defence, the teachers are now Unionised very strongly – you need that. Also the university training, educational thinking in the County, Ofsted, QCA and syllabus are now strongly in favour of the status quo.

    This monolithic system does not work.

    I wrote a letter to the paper saying as much.
    Wow! Immediately all the vested interests were at my throat in a most unpleasant, personal way. Still the letters have not stopped.
    And guess how many letters were in my favour?

    Mr Gove has a real battle on his hands if he wants to unravel all this and replace the Comprehensive dinosaurs with Secondary Moderns (sorry, smaller Comprehensives) and Grammar Schools – (sorry, specialist academies and parent sponsored/faith schools).
    Is he enough of a man to do this, I wonder?

  18. no one
    July 30, 2009

    Oh dear all this talk of public service efficiencies

    I take it you are aware the Conservatives have been telling the analysts that many public sector back office jobs will be off shored? Moving thousands of jobs to India?

    One off shoring company TCS makes $1b out of the UK. per year, and take on 25,000 graduates in India but NOT ONE in the UK. Its the same with Cognizant, Tech Mahindra and the others.

    This is not a model for a high skilled UK workforce.

    And then we have the thousands and thousands of people here from Indian outsourcing outfits here in the UK, (word left out) supposedly on inter company transfer Visas for their company, in practise sub contracted to our large multinationals as cheap labour.

    (para left out)
    If this is true the Conservatives are making a massive mistake. This is not the way to “make the public sector more efficient”.

    Indeed the Conservatives should be promising to stop the thousands of 3rd world folk coming here on Visas not designed for these purposes.

    If you want to give all our highly skilled jobs to India within a generation go ahead, have you really thought about this?

    Suggest you discuss urgently with your senior Conservative friends.

    Reply: The Conservatives are not in power nationally so they are not outsourcing anything. Nor do I know of any stated Conservative proposal which would do more of this.

    1. no one
      September 4, 2009

      I understand

      have been briefed “off the record” by the most senior conservatives that moving jobs to india and using indian nationals here on inter company transfer visas working for (named companies-ed) etc will all be part of the “cost cutting” approach used in the public sector

      If its true I would like to see it “on the record”

      Personally I would like to see the widespread abuse of inter company transfer visas stopped, and some sense in these areas

      Isnt Somerset County Council Conservative? Have they not outsourced much of their work to IBM? Are you sure absolutely none of this is being done using (foreign-ed) resources?

      Reply: I know of no policy to ship loads of work out to India. Anyone running the UK public sector does from time to time offer outsource contracts to see if that is better and cheaper, and these can be open to overseas as well as to UK companies. As you contantly remind us, multinationals can also choose who to hire to fuflill their contracts. It’s not a plot, or some secret policy.

  19. thespecialone
    July 30, 2009


    Your exposure of the expenditures in government departments shows that a socialist government just loves to waste taxpayers money. It also proves that you can cut public spending without cutting frontline services. I truly hope that your party can get that message over to the public in the run-up to the next election.

  20. james
    July 30, 2009

    Dear John

    I have been in the education business for 30 years dealing with children at primary level.

    In brief, here are the facts about standards.

    Throughout the 80s, the standards fell and fell and fell as teachers were allowed to do as they pleased.

    Then, in the very early 90’s, the Tories introduced school league tables; and the standards stopped falling.

    Since that time, the standards at primary level have more or less stayed the same; perhaps rising slightly.

    However, given that middle class parents usually engage private tutors and/or tutor the children themselves, it seems likely that those primary children who do achieve high levels are doing so on the basis of work done outside school.

    As such, it seems to me that it is very important that government does, indeed, continue to intervene in schools in order to ensure that the teachers do their jobs properly.

    As an aside, I would also point out that boys are being PURPOSELY disadvantaged by those in the higher echelons of our educational system. They have a feminist mindset that dictates that anything that helps boys more so than girls is ‘sexist’ – and must be thrown out – whereas anything that helps girls more so than boys is taken up with enthusiasm.

    1. Paul
      July 31, 2009


      Standards held till about 1987, when the new GCSEs came in. Because these were trivially easy, A-Levels had to be watered down. I actually remember picking up the first post-GCSE syllabus and sample papers and wondering what I was going to teach for two years.

      The “marketisation” of exam papers then dragged standards down and has been doing so ever since aided by the desire of the idiot minster of education of the day to spout tractor stats about exams.

      You cannot have a market in exams because a ‘good’ exam means different things to different people.

      League tables tell us nothing we don’t know already viz. which schools have a poor intake, and are gamed anyway.

      1. james
        July 31, 2009

        1. GCSEs? I was talking about primary school education.

        2. League tables might tell us little, but their introduction made PRIMARY schools much more concerned about their standards.

        1. Paul
          August 1, 2009

          Standards as defined by the league tables, needless to say.

          Apart from the Primary School statistics being collected in a fashion that could be kindly described as cretinous they are gamed to a ridiculous extent.

          I removed my son to private in Year 6 for precisely this reason ; I didn’t want him to waste the whole year practicing for tests that have no benefit to him whatsoever.

  21. Peter Turner
    July 30, 2009

    If we are to give more choice to parents regarding which school would best suit their needs we must also give choice to a school regarding which pupils it accepts. I know this would lead to selection by academic ability but this route would improve education in general.

  22. Bazman
    July 31, 2009

    Lets cut the benefits in the form of tax free status to the people who can afford to send their children to expensive private schools who are after all so rich that they are proud of the amount of money they spend. The idea that the state as a whole gains anything from their crumbs is a joke. Tax them and use the money to improve state schools. They will pay anyway. Cutting your home help to four, your second homes to one and your holidays to three does not count as sacrifice.
    Even better ban private schools and see how fast the state schools improve. The rich can then send their children abroad and maybe live abroad themselves. Bet they don’t.

  23. Man in a Shed
    August 1, 2009

    As an unpaid Governor I have been horrified at my introduction to the public sector. I know many other people who have volunteered as governors from private sector backgrounds who have had similar views ( a few of them becoming Tory converts as a direct result ).

    Mrs T reformed the general world of work and nationalised industries – the next Conservative government must do the same for the state.

    Independent schools show directly how all the infrastructure isn’t needed.

    I think it would be good for each parent to know how much the education of their children was costing ( with LEA /Govt over heads prorated appropriately ) and business rates on the same basis as an independent school would face.

    Once people see the cost of education, they would be a lot less relaxed about how its delivered.

    Just look at the impact of the “cost of MPs” and the personal tax liability from Brown’s borrowing binge of the political debate.

    The left will fight like tigers to prevent this – but education is the left wing swamp that most needs draining.

  24. David Oliver
    August 9, 2009

    I would get rid of the GTC, that teachers pay £15 towards for giving them little back. That’s £15 the taxpayer pays each teacher.

    Basically OFSTED, TDA SSDA, QCA, LSC should all be scrapped and rolled into one little DFES ball that is the servant, not the master or inquisitor of schools and teachers.

    Schools and teachers should left alone to continue educating young people could do a vastly better job left to their own creative and professional nounce; and collaborating between schools at the local LEA level.

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