Education Quandary

'Will more spending on schools really make much difference to educational standards? If not, what will?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

No, frankly, it won't. Children in this country already go to schools that, by and large, offer a reasonable standard of education. Buildings are, on the whole, warm and dry. Teachers all have higher education qualifications. Classes are not enormous, and curriculum resources are adequate. Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement. There will always be room for improvement. But any child who is really hungry to learn could sit in almost any classroom in the UK and do so.

So why are educational standards so far from what we would like them to be? In a word: motivation.

Some children are eager to do well in school and are encouraged by their parents to do so. Far too many aren't. Sometimes dreadful things, such as poverty and abuse, get in the way of learning, but more often pupils can't, as they so often graphically put it, "be arsed". They don't do boredom, or self-discipline, or concentration. Sometimes they don't even do reasonable behaviour. They've grown up in a prosperous world, and expect life to be permanently easy and entertaining. They know all about their rights, but understand very little about their responsibilities. Patience, application and effort are words foreign to their vocabularies.

The £36bn of partly-new money announced by the Chancellor for schools just before Christmas is good news for pupils. Children should have up-to-date buildings, great resources and well-trained teachers, and one of the best things about visiting schools these days is seeing that coming about. But unless parents get on board, too, and bring up their children to value these things, the investment will never bring about the returns we would all like.

Readers' advice

More spending per se won't make the difference. For years, Finland has been at the top of the international educational standards league table, yet their educational spending per pupil is not high. But they strive for a developmentally appropriate, all-round education, with children not starting formal schooling until seven. They offer an education that balances hand, heart and head‚ unlike Britain's over-academic system, which begins formal learning far too early, criminally sells off sports fields by the tens of thousands, and degrades the place of physical education and artistic expression in children's learning experience. So our standards won't begin to improve until the way that the money is spent is addressed.

Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education Roehampton University

When I was researching a book about the experience of immigrants in New York, an elderly Polish-American man described to me the schools in Brooklyn in the post-war years. "Everyone learnt their lessons, even though the teachers could be cruel. We had to. We had to learn English and get on. It was what we had come here for." Only children who want an education do well in school. The lesson from here is that money won't ever reach those who don't.

Rachel Goldman, New Jersey, US

Our school has had a new classroom block, a new music centre and a new games hall. Our students are excited by the new facilities, and they have transformed the lives of the teachers who use them. Money alone can't raise educational standards, but it does help everyone to do their best.

Hilly Crawford, Surrey

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I am a newly qualified primary school teacher and have started the new term feeling desperate. Last term, I worked every evening and never got on top of my lesson-planning or marking, and I know that this term will be worse. Please don't just say, 'Talk to someone.' I couldn't. I feel like such an idiot for not coping.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 15 January to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser