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t’s something of a well-rehearsed argument, but investing in education is really about investing in the future of your country. I’d go as far as to say that you can probably measure the worth of your culture and therefore your society by how much you spend on education, and that goes for buildings as much as it does for staff, books and computers.


At a time when we are witnessing some worrying signs of education spending stalling, based around a much- debated per-pupil spending calculation which seems to unfairly favour certain areas of the country, it’s worth looking at how much we spend as a nation. Oddly enough, when you look at the quality of a lot of our buildings, the figures haven’t been that bad in recent times.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development contains 34 major countries, and compares data on many key societal factors. The UK was in the top six in terms of per-pupil spending on education between 2008 and 2014, and in the top six for increases in that spending. However The National Audit Office in 2017 said that although overall spending on schools has continued to increase between 2014/15 and 2019/20, a combination of increasing pupil numbers and staff costs mean they will have to spend 8 per cent less per pupil.

Also in 2017 the OECD reported that 44 per cent of UK students were taught in schools where the headteacher has reported that issues like poor quality buildings or grounds has hindered performance, at least to some extent. When it comes to comparisons, this is way is far above the OECD average of 35 per cent. While recruitment and retention of teachers remains a big challenge, such problems are not going to help, notwithstanding the impact on childrens’ learning.

Something else that grated with teachers is when the Chancellor Phillip Hammond used the phrase “little extras” in his Autumn 2018 Budget to describe the purpose of the £400m extra for schools he managed to produce. While this relatively small injection would be likely to do anything about shortfalls in costs of retaining staff, the implication that putting money into schools – to be spent perhaps on things like IT equipment or a lick of paint – was an “extra” was felt to be patronising at best.

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Now we realise that finding some cash for “extras” is not the real problem however – the budget restrictions are now starting to eat into the core curriculum across the UK. Recently I’ve seen reports in my local area on the south coast that music GCSEs are being removed from some schools’ syllabuses. This is no doubt seen as an “extra” by many in authority, but it’s an example of where the cultural life of children, and their future prospects, is being sacrificed while other things are perceived to be more important.

Buildings are even less of an optional extra. As this supplement shows, good quality educational establishments are not just vanities, they are essential to childrens’ enjoyment and therefore effectiveness of learning. I would say that any drastic cuts we make here are wounds inflicted on our whole society.

James Parker Editor


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ON THE COVER... The interior of the new Heidelberglaan 15 building at HU University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands contrasts off-whites, greys and timber with escalators in a bright gold/ yellow casing. © Adam Mørk for Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

For the full report on this project, go to page 25



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