Taking tough decisions on education spending: An interview with George Osborne
How do you decide how much money education in your country should receive?
Former UK Chancellor George Osborne told the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai that this was a particularly difficult decision when his party entered government in 2010 – especially in the wake of the global financial crisis.
“The primary task as I had as the Chancellor was to deal with an 11% budget deficit,” said Mr Osborne.
“And within that there were certain constraints, and one of those was that health spending would continue to rise. And that put a lot of pressure on everything else.”
Mr Osborne said he tried to protect education spending by keeping it “static”, and that he prioritised money going towards the education reforms led by then education secretary Michael Gove.
“Probably the most radical domestic reform we undertook as a government was around education,” said Mr Osborne.
“As a finance minister I was an unwavering friend of the Michael Gove education reforms, so I was diverting money away from other educational priorities and towards his reform programme of Academies and Free Schools.”
This programme encouraged schools to become independent of local education authorities, receive funding directly from central government, and to collaborate with universities, industry and other schools in both the public and private sector.
Mr Osborne acknowledged that prioritising this scheme meant that other parts of the education system suffered as a result, but added: “I was using the money to back a reform that I believed in and a cabinet minister I was friendly with, and I think in the context of the economic climate we did a pretty good job with those reforms.”
Investing in Edtech
Mr. Osborne told delegates at the Global Education & Skills Forum he didn’t enjoy making cuts to certain parts of education spending and other areas of the UK’s public sector.
“Almost anyone facing the situation we faced would have chosen a period of fiscal constraint,” he said.
“It would have been nice not to have done some of those things, I didn’t take any pleasure. It wasn’t for any ideological reasons.”
However, he said that despite his government freezing overall education spending, he said he recognised that “investment in education is the best pound you can spend, because it is most likely to generate improvements for the individuals concerned and the productivity of the country”.
In particular, he said the most important investment by governments in schools today is in Educational Technology.
“A classroom today looks very similar to a classroom 100 years ago,” he said.
“The country that achieves the big transformative step with applying new technology to allow teachers to target their teaching at the appropriate level for each child, I think that will be the country that has the greater head start.”
Life after Brexit
Mr Osborne left his role as both Chancellor and an MP following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.
He said he was always against the UK having a referendum on EU membership, but “lost the argument” within government.
As a result, he then decided to campaign against Brexit, “instead of staying silent or thinking of the best place to maneuver myself”.
He admitted that this was a mistake as far as his prospects for a career in UK politics was concerned.
“I paid a political price because I alienated half the Conservative party who weren’t best pleased with my efforts,” he said.
After leaving politics, he became editor on London newspaper The Evening Standard, which now regularly campaigns against a so-called “hard Brexit” that would take the UK outside of the EU Customs Union and implement a strict immigration policy.
“Why am I doing this job?” he asked.
“Because I have something to say, the paper has something to say and the city has something to say [about Brexit]. I am proud of London being the most international city in the world.”
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