A LESSON IN HOW TO INVEST IN EDUCATION AND SAVE MONEY

HAMISH CARLISLE

In my early fifties, some fifteen years ago, after a life in the wine trade, I decided to have a career change. I applied for a one year PGCE teacher training course and found myself teaching mathematics in an inner city comprehensive.

At the end of my first year I collected the Year 11 GCSE Maths textbooks, insofar as I was able to. Many books were never returned, and many of those which were given back were damaged beyond repair.

The books, even then, cost about £25 each, and it grieved me that they were treated with such scant respect. It was clear that we would have to buy new books for the 250 Year 10 students starting GCSE Maths the following September.

Having spent my life in the “private sector” I was acutely conscious that taxpayer’s money was being wasted unnecessarily. At the next department meeting I proposed a possible solution.

Each new book issued, I suggested, would have a dedicated serial number linking it to a particular student. No student would be allowed to take the book out of school until we received a signed receipt from the parent and a £10 cash deposit.

The response to this suggestion was mixed. What about the students on free school meals? (Many of these wore branded trainers I couldn’t afford for my own children, and carried mobile phones I couldn’t afford for myself).

What about the refugees? (Many had language disadvantage, but this was more than compensated by coming from stable family backgrounds, and having parents very focussed on their educational success)

What about those with Special Educational Needs? (No disrespect to the truly ungifted, but there are lies, damned lies, and Special Educational Needs.)

Despite the opposition of the appalled “liberal” lobby, the measure was adopted.

The following term the forms were issued and the £10 notes began to accumulate. Very few students failed to produce the completed form and the deposit money.

Of those non-compliers, many were from the ranks of those who had long since given up on school: they had no desire to drag this heavy book home, still less to complete any homework, so were in complete agreement that their books would live in the classroom.

This way at least they were not punished for failing to bring the book to lessons! This is not to say they were going nowhere. We had lively discussions and I am sure some of them survived very well. School just wasn’t their thing.

Having produced this plan I was then entrusted with the administration of it. I found myself with some £1000 plus of cash and duly took it down to the school office to deposit it.

The suggestion was greeted with horror by the administration. “We don’t have any facility for deposit money,” they protested. “How would we account for it in the system? If Maths want to do this they must look after the money”

Undeterred I took the wad back upstairs and found a drawer with a lock and there it lay. As the year progressed I found other sources of income. We bought equipment like rulers, calculators, protractors & replacement exercise books and sold it on to the students.

“We must sell it all at cost,” chanted the lefties. I settled on a 30% mark up. All of this was effectively written off by the school so the money lay in a kind of limbo along with the book deposits.

At the end of two years we found that the books were indeed in much better shape, and comparatively few of them were lost.

The scheme was deemed an unqualified success. But, curiously, a substantial minority of the deposits remained uncollected and I found myself in charge of a strange “slush fund” which no one appeared to own.

I would like to be able to say that we invested this in charitable causes, but human nature being what it is this is not what happened.

Maths teachers do feel the need to let off steam after the stresses of teaching, so each Christmas and each July we sensibly invested our fund in a little bit of oblivion, for the greater good of hanging on to our sanity….. I trust you will keep this part of the story to yourselves.

In conclusion, what did we learn?

I would say that the Public Sector assertion that everything be free at the point of delivery is highly questionable.

If expensive textbooks survive longer as a result of a token deposit and a form, this is surely worth the effort.

If one replicated this procedure across all subjects in all schools the savings would run to many millions of pounds. Those who oppose such reforms tend to be unionised zealots who claim to have the best interests of the poor at heart, but I suspect they are misguided.

Small interventions like these on the part of schools would release funds which could be very beneficial, and school management would do well to adopt a less rigid approach to budgetary matters.

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