Saturday, 14 July 2012

A great idea, out the window again - the private school subsidy remains.

In 2009, I was part of a team of kids from Hautlieu School who took part in the annual Youth Assembly, where 6th form students from each of the schools go and sit in the States Chamber for a day and debate propositions and interrogate ministers.

The propositions are not normally as dull as the usual ones in states proceedings, but on more general topics of principle that are easier for young people to get involved in. The things that usually come up are debating whether to legalise euthanasia, whether to extend the smoking ban or whether to tie university funding to the “usefulness” of the degree etc. So it’s normally issues of principle, rather than the ins and outs of funding arrangements in a context of deficit reduction. But all in all, it usually ends up a great day.

The proposition that my team put forward, that I proposed, was that the States of Jersey should cease to provide any public subsidy to the islands fee-paying schools. Essentially our position was that over a few years the subsidy should be decreased and the schools should seek private sponsorship instead. The idea was to alter the strange circumstance we have in Jersey where private schools have state funding, so to save money in a way that didn’t adversely impact on anyones education.

Needless to say, given that it was being suggested by a non-fee paying school to be approved by 4 fee-paying schools, we were resoundly defeated. But the whole process was very interesting. I had to do a lot of research, I had a meeting with someone at the Education department who was incredibly helpful, gave me a lot of information, suggested ideas and played devil’s advocate to help format the argument. Hautlieu were terrified when they found out their students planned to put forward this proposition and (literally) begged us to change it, and not being one to ever bow down to those in positions of authority unless they could convince me they were right, I explained they were not convincing and said we would do it anyway.

But the arguments we were given in the assembly were generally very poor. Most had taken it as nothing but an attack on their way of life, inspired by jealousy and pettiness, despite our strenuous attempts to make it clear that was not the case. My personal favourite comment was from someone whom I now consider a friend, who accused me of putting forward “Socialist drivel” (wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or flattered!) despite the fact we were arguing for cutting ties between private and state, rather than extending them.

So you can imagine how vindicated I felt when a matter of months after this, the then Education Minister Deputy Reed proposed halving the States subsidy! Since the Youth Assembly propositions were more based on principle, rather than practicality, I understood that the proposition to half the subsidy (rather than mine of abolishing it outright) was more appropriate and fully endorsed it.

Just with the Youth Assembly arguments, we had the parents coming out to condemn the move, decry it as “unfair” and they even had prominent supporters like the then Senator Shenton (obviously nothing to do with the fact he sent his kids to private school), who dismissed the Minster as if he obviously didn’t understand the whole argument for having the public subsidy.

But the issue has arisen again because of the new Education Minister Deputy Ryan’s announcement that there will be no alterations to the subsidy until at least 2016 (the JEP article can be found HERE). And, as was the case with the Youth Assembly, we can see by the comments that the parents are as ill informed as they were when the issue was first brought up and those that are in favour of the proposed cut are dismissed as not understanding the reasons for the subsidy in the first place. But they are wrong, and I’ll demonstrate it now.

Here’s the argument –

The government providing a subsidy to the fee-paying schools is value for money. Educating children in a States school costs the government more than it does than if they were educated privately. So by offering a subsidy to the fee-paying schools, they are able to lower their fees by an amount that widens the scope of families that are able to afford to send their children to the fee-paying schools, and thereby lowers the burden on the taxpayer. Simple.

None of this is wrong. But what none of these parents are capable of thinking is, is the current level of subsidy the optimum amount? They are too busy trying to stifle any debate on the level of the subsidy, even though it is entirely possible that the current level of the subsidy is actually either too high or too low. There should be regular reviews to determine whether the best amount is being paid out and whether it needs altering to make sure as much money is being saved as possible. The previous minister judged that this wasn’t the case, and whilst his department was being asked to make savings, this was a perfect area to review because it didn’t actually involve firing any teachers or lowering the standard of education that Jersey students got.

The second part of the argument put forward by the parents and headteachers was that the fees would have to rise and this rise would lead to an exodus of students out of the fee-paying schools and into the state sector, where the government would have to pay twice as much for each pupil. Every child in a fee-paying school is given 50% the amount they would be if they were in a States school. So the more students in the States schools, the more the government spends there so they wouldn’t actually save money if enough students swapped.

The problem with this is that it didn’t take into account a few factors that would actually offset the costs and make it still economically viable. Whilst the debate was going on, one of the headteachers came out and made a prediction (which you can bet was pessimistic) on how many students in fee-paying schools would have to leave because of the rise in fees. The amount of students he predicted was NOT enough to mean the States weren’t saving money (I’m looking for the citation of this, and will post it when I’ve found it).

Only taking into account the direct costs of education, 50% of the students would have to leave the fee-paying schools to mean the states weren’t making money (because each student would thus become twice as expensive for the government). Though this doesn’t take into account the costs of building new classrooms and hiring more teachers, so it would actually be less than that. But the number of students predicted to leave was far lower than this. In fact it was also a number that the States schools headteachers announced that they had capacity to accommodate. So no new extra funds would have to be allocated to the States schools.

But this also doesn’t take into account the fact that the fee-paying schools actually have waiting lists and so it’s likely that some children would actually swap from state to fee-paying schools because of increased availability. So this would further reduce the cost to the tax payer.

The numbers work out!

The fact is, the government giving away £9.8m a year to the fee-paying schools is NOT economical. It is not value for money and we could do better. Providing them with £5.5m a year instead means we keep all of the benefits of having the public subsidy and reduced strain on the states sector, without any of the negatives.

Now, of course it would upsetting for any student to have to leave a school they have become comfortable in and you can totally understand parents being annoyed at having to pay extra fees. But where they seem to have a misunderstanding is that this arrangement does not exist to provide an economic benefit to those families, it exists to provide an economic benefit to all of the islands taxpayers as a whole, and so this change was going to reflect that.

But despite all this, the new minister has thrown out the proposition.

Make no mistake ladies and gentleman, Deputy Ryan has not thrown out the proposition because it had no merit, but because he is trying to win votes from a certain section of society. He would rather shift the public spending cuts in education on to the already underfunded states schools so that poor people have to make it up. This is typical of the government we currently have.


  1. I have the suspicion the deputy has overstepped his authority here. Four years will take us beyond the lifetime of the current States assembley, and of course the deputies term of office.

    I have heard it stated many times in the States that an assembly cannot be bound by the decision of a previous one. What gives the deputy the authority to do what the States as a whole cannot?

    1. Any States Assembly can revoke previous legislation and replace it with new legislation, but that's different from each department breaking contractual arrangements with external institutions.

      If one Assembly contracts a construction firm to build something, and then there is an election and a new minister cancels the contract, there will be all sorts of penalty clauses etc. So presumably he's done a deal with the schools that lasts until 2016.

  2. Does the same argument apply to the subsidy the states give to the bus service? Should we reduce that and let prices increase?

    1. The argument of "should we always make sure the subsidy is the optimum amount?" yes, that should always apply, but that doesn't always mean the subsidies should be cut. In some cases they should be increased.

      The bus service is different to the schools because there is no public alternative. I've said it in here before, I'd happily have the whole bus service fully subsidised and free because it would get people off of the roads, which Jersey needs.

      That being said, since a new company has the contract, it'll be worth waiting to see how good a job they do first.

  3. Vic College is just another state school like hautlieu and the states should stop forcing parents to pay to send their children there.

  4. Parents who send their children to private school should receive a tax rebate for not using states schools. Perhaps it could be paid directly to the private school, say, 50% of the cost?

    1. Terrible idea.

      Firstly, you'd also have to have an extra tax rebate for those who don't have any children at all, and the more exemptions you have in your tax system, the more complicated and expensive it is to administer (that's why we're told GST has to stay on food).

      And plus, the States schools are open to any parent who wants to send their kid. It's their choice to send them to exclusive schools. And the tax payer actually funds them to make a choice that most in the island don't have the funds to make, so theres even an argument to say they should be taxed more.

    2. You missed the point (and the sarcasm). The rebate is already in place but it's paid directly to the schools.

  5. Unless her knows something we don't... like all terms will be extended for one year as recommended by the Electoral Commission (or as it will be when it reports)?

    I totally agree the cost of educating one student is over-stated, because of the inefficiencies in the education department.

    All schools should be private, but not all private schools need be fee-paying at these levels of subsidy. Every States school also seeks to earn extra funding from the parents.

    This has been tried in the UK and it has shown that freed from the burden of government, even schools in the areas of greatest social deprivation can excel.

    It is government which as ever is the problem. One size can not ever fit all.

  6. Sir, State funded independent schools are gaining in popularity both sides of the atlantic because they appear to work. Yet you want to remove the state funding part and create an elite establishment only available to the rich? Surely a better option would be to fully fund the schools and give Hautliau more independence? It would be nice to hear some argument based on the educational merits of each system rather then just money. Do you have any?

    1. Most of these independent schools that get government funding aren't fee-paying.

      Educational merits are great, but you can't have a good education system without the money.

      As it happens, I think the whole British education system is rubbish, doesn't train people up for real life, doesn't give the necessary skills and is too focused on passing exams, and I don't like how the schools are segregated between those with money and those less well off. Personally, I'd turn the whole thing upside down, but that's not a topical debate right now, the funding is, which is why I've chosen to comment on that aspect alone.

  7. What would be the cost to jersey of not having these schools? Colossal I would imagine. The funding is extremely good value for money for the taxpayer.

    1. No one has suggested getting rid of the schools. Funding is good, but there is only so much funding you can give before it stops being value for money, and we've exceeded that level.

    2. The state aided fee paying schools are good value for money and are actually cheaper that the state schools as to the cost of educating one pupil.

      I cannot see where you come up with such a sweeping statement about the funding not being value for money as economically if these schools were to cease to function by making them overly expensive then the cost to the island would be considerable as new schools would have to be built to replace them given that some of the fee paying schools offer substandard accommodation.

      I know you are studying law and hope to graduate in 2013 but you should study some economics and accountancy before making statements which seem to be ideologically based and not rooted in fact.

    3. I normally try to be diplomatic, but this comment is the most irritating comment I've had posted on my blog for a while.

      All of your points have been answered already.

      "if the schools were to cease to function" who the hell said anything about the schools ceasing to function?! No one did. Why are you even bringing up such an outrageous circumstance? No one is arguing doing anything to close the schools down. In fact, we're arguing to keep them open!

      I have specifically said (which you would know if you had read my post) that I want to KEEP the subsidy, because I understand exactly the point you are making, that kids are half as expensive to educate in a fee-paying school as a non-fee paying. But contrary to your nonsense point about having to build extra schools (which everyone in the education department has said is utter nonsense) the heads of the fee-paying schools said that only a small amount of kids would have to leave their schools.

      If you were smart enough to do the maths (because it's you that clearly needs to understand economics and accountancy) you would know, that if it is half as expensive to educate a kid in a fee-paying school, than half of the kids in the fee-paying schools would need to switch to a state school for the government to have not saved money. That's simple maths.

      But the fact is, which you have totally ignored, is that no where near half the students would have to swap.

      So now I'm going to ask you the question -

      Why is £9.8m the nirvana of public subsidy?

      What will £9.8m achieve that could not be achieved by £5.5m??

      Enlighten me.

      If my position were based in ideology, I would be advocating nationalising all the schools in the island. But actually I'm saying lets find an equitable amount of money to allocate so that everyone can be educated properly in the island. So sod off with such silly remarks.

    4. Actually I am a qualified accountant with a science degree from a top University so perhaps I am slightly more numerate than you.

      The States Schools are not underfunded and indeed have better facilities than the supported fee paying sector. As a former Hautlieu pupil you of all people should understand that.

      Your end to the subsidy is purely based on ideological grounds and is indeed the politics of envy.

      With regard to your maths I am afraid it is a bit flawed as the moment one pupil moves then the States starts paying more for example if there are 100 pupils costing say 5K each in the fee paying sector and 100 in States Schools costing say 10k each.

      Current Cost is 1.5 million once one pupil moves this happens

      99 x 5 = 495 plus 101 x 10= 1010 total cost is 1,505,000.

      As I said a bit of economics and accountancy comes in useful as does mathematical logic!

    5. I'll be sure to keep you well away from any of my money ;)

      Before going to Hautlieu I went to Grainville, so I know very well that that is a load of nonsense. But it also doesn't follow from the logic that no parent would pay extra to send their kids to underfunded schools when they could send them to better funded schools for free. The fee paying schools also tend to get better exam results than the non-fee paying (with the exception of Hautlieu, but that's because it's selective) but that will be something to do with the fact that each student at a fee-paying school has more money allocated to them than they would in a non-fee paying school because the parents top it up.

      But you ignored my question to you. Why is £9.8m the magic number, yet £5.5m is ridiculous? You didn't even attempt to explain that. If you're so confident that the subsidy should remain is it is, you have to justify why it is £9.8m that is the optimum subsidy. All you've done is trot out the same arguments (that, btw, I've actually agreed with and given in my blog post several times) without actually analysing if the current number fulfils the purpose as well as it could do.

      I understand that a child costs more to educate in a States school than in a fee-paying school (I've acknowledged that about 4 times). So lets take your maths (which I acknowledge is the right approach, but as I've tried stressing, you've ignored an important fact).

      So, there are 100 kids in the FP schools, £5k each, total £500,000. Then there's the 100 kids in the NFP schools, £10k each, total 1,000,000.

      So the government is paying £1,500,000 in total for all schools. But what you've forgotten is that the government is cutting it's subsidy in half, so from now on, it is only going to pay £2,500 per child in a FP school, so now, they are giving £250,000 to the FP schools, which works out at £1,250,000 in total. A saving of £250,000.

      But this doesn't take into account the fact that the fees will go up, so some kids will have to swap schools. So you need to work out how many kids would need to swap until no money had been saved overall. It's 34. That's 66 kids at FP schools, at £2,500 each is £165,000. Then 134 at the NFP schools at £10k each is 1,340,000. Total, £1,505,000. Understand so far?

      So the question is, would 34% need to switch? According to the heads of the private schools, no. Much less than that. I'm still looking for the citation, but if my memory serves me correctly, the estimation was only around 20%. So that's 80 FP, £200000. 120 NFP, £1,200,000. Total, £1,400,000. That means it's a net saving of £100,000.

      That is the logic behind this. The numbers do work out, and your maths was bad because you were still multiplying by 5 for the FP schools when you should have multiplied by 2.5. Very worrying that you're an accountant.

  8. Hope this isn't too off-topic. I left a short reference to this idea for uni students to expose the BBC complicity in the Jersey Way (awaiting moderation) to be posted on The Jersey Way blog.

    There is such blatant bias of BBC interviewers in the recent hoopla over who leaked the truth about lies to Rico, and more bias now in defense of Vulture Funds, that it would be easy to share with journalism and poly sci students and those in various related major areas of study. It would be more than merely entertaining to see their analysis, and potentially embarrassing for those at the helm of BBC if it could be made widely public.

    The recorded BBC Jersey interview regarding the leak to Rico Sorda's Blog is all the more stunning because it goes directly against the grand philosophical basis for journalistic freedom and source protection, as championed foremost by the BBC itself, around the world. To heighten any confusion over the larger story of the very major corruption scandal the leak exposed, BBC Jersey conducted an interview by one BBC hack with another, in a typical State Media format which served to sideline the big story, revealing almost none of the important information in the public interest contained in the leak. Instead, in the apparent style of a State sponsored conversation, BBC reporters accepted the minor and common act of a leak itself as the real scandal. On a National basis, biased interview behaviour like that would be a serious scandal indeed for BBC, since they lobby extensively for the absolute need for journalists to balance government power with the public need for BBC exposure of dishonesty, and for complete protection of sources.

    It is a great perversion of BBC's stated primary purpose.

  9. Those who send their children to the subsidised private schools do so because they perceive them to be better schools, thus giving their children an advantage over the students in the state schools.

    The subsidy is, in reality, the majority aiding the minority to access a better system.It is elitist and deeply divisive. Remove the subsidies and the private schools can then exist in the free market that the ideologues on the right so love. What they love more, however, is having public funds pay for their private advantage.