Monday, 9 February 2004

Something doesn't add up

Clive Summerfield @ Monday, February 09, 2004
Here in Barnsley, Council Tax is set to increase by 5.35%.

At the same time, the CPI (Consumer Price Index - new inflation measure) sits at 1.8%, and the RPI (Retail Price Index - old measure) stands at 2.8%.

So why the inflation busting increase?

One reason is probably related to the wage bill. Public Sector wage rises were running at 3.9% last year, which directly impacts Local Government wage expenditure. Although a more significant hit probably came as a result of Gordon Brown's increase in National Insurance last year.

But locally, the main reason cited is increased spending on education.

Well, in a council with some of the worst schools and the poorest Ofsted results in the country, increased expenditure could be a good thing. If I honestly thought the charlatans at the LEA were even vaguely capable of managing the budget and delivering the results. Which I don't for a couple of reasons.

Firstly Edna Sutton, head of the LEA, has called for lower targets for Barnsley schools. Yup, that's right, lower standards. Her rationale is that the current standards are too high and thus unattainable, leading to disillusionment amongst education staff. Obviously she doesn't know much about human nature. Let's say the target was 70% of pupils achieving 4 GCSE passes. And the reality was only 50%. Is setting the target lower at say 60% going to achieve the desired result? Probably not. More likely is that the target will still be missed, though maybe not by as much. Maybe with a lowered target, they might only slip by 12%. Sounds better, until you realise that the pass rate has now dropped to 48%.

A long time ago a friend gave me some advice when I returned to Polytechnic (for those too young to remember, a Poly was a University that was in touch with reality). I said that I'd be happy with a 2:2 pass. He replied that I was a fool, and should aim for a 1st. I pointed out that my chances of gaining a 1st were damn near zilch. Doesn't matter says he. Imagine if you will, a monkey leaping from tree to tree. He can aim for the highest branch in the next tree, or settle for the lowest. If he aims high and misses, he still has other branches to catch him. If he aims for the lowest and misses, splat. So I listened to his advice, and gained a 2:1 Honours.

Anyway, back to the LEA.

The second reason for not trusting them is due entirely to their grandiose plans for completely restructuring the education system in Barnsley. The scheme is too complex to cover the details here, although information is available here. Basically the approach can be summed up as "The education system is failing in Barnsley. We've an idea what is wrong, but either haven't a clue how to address it, or are too frightened of the reaction we'll get. So instead we'll just completely change the system and hope that it works. After all, it can't be any worse than it is a present."

I won't tolerate that sort of attitude from IT specialists in non-critical business areas, so I sure as hell find it unacceptable from an LEA responsible for our children's education here in Barnsley.

Yet this is what we're expected to pay more for. The increase will probably help to cover the increased NI bill on Edna's rumoured £100k+ salary.

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