I wasted £20,000 today

I closed our school today. We had no water. It was a simple decision to make, even at 6.30 in the morning. You can’t have over 1000 people on site with no way of feeding them or for them to use the toilet.

The problem affected the whole of the surrounding area, so clearly not ‘our fault’. Naturally we were still blamed by a small (very small) section of our community who were clearly significantly inconvenienced. It is a pain when you have to suddenly change your plans to ensure your children are looked after, but I’m not sure it necessitated the lady on reception being shouted at. I’m not naming names as that would be unprofessional and, well, they slammed the phone down before leaving their contact details.

Once the Facebook crowd realised it wasn’t actually a hoax the rational majority were understanding. We have great parents generally. It makes life easier.

I crossed my legs until 1pm, got loads of work done, then someone from Thames Water turned up to let me know what was going on. She was very apologetic. I thanked her for dropping in, told her that these things happen and asked that someone email later to confirm that the water was back on. She was just doing her job, after all. It is really irritating that we lost one of the 190 days a year we have to educate our students; these days are precious. But what can you do?

On my way home I wondered idly whether we could get away with cheekily asking for compensation. I did the math. To keep it simple, it goes like this…

We get short of £4m a year to run the school. For this money, we educate about 1000 students, which works out at under £4,000 per student. They come to school for 190 days each year, meaning it costs just over £20 per day to provide this education per child, or about £20,000 per school day for all of them. Perhaps Thames Water would refund me the £20,000 of lost education?

When I taught A Level Economics, I regularly asked successive groups of students how much they would pay per lesson to receive their education if we moved to a private, ‘pay-per-view’ approach to schooling. It was an interesting thought experiment which led to discussions about the varying value they placed on the education they received in different subjects, and with different teachers, and how this would change how they and their teachers behaved. Their answer was generally about £10-15 for an hour long lesson. For this they would expect well-planned lessons and some feedback on their work. We speculated as to whether this ‘free market’ model would increase quality, efficiency and outcomes. Economics is a fun subject if you teach it right.

For every hour of teaching our school provides the students would need to pay about £2 ‘at the door’ if we changed our business model. For this would would get consistently good quality teaching and regular feedback and guidance. With this income, we could provide everything else pretty much for free – supervision during leisure time, access to reasonable facilities, extra-curricular activities, pastoral support, counselling, mentoring… well, you get the idea.

Now if that isn’t value for money, I don’t know what is.

It is not a school’s job to provide child-care, but if we did we would charge much more than £2.00 per hour. That’s a cheap baby-sitter! Perhaps our marketing should be along the lines of “Great value kids club – with a free education thrown in”.

Now I could go on at this point to make a case for better funding for schools, but you can fill in the gaps. What value our children’s education?

I’ll finish with this point… I didn’t waste £20,000 today, as the title of this blog suggests, because the people we employ are professionals, and that means they used the time they would have been teaching constructively in improving further the education we provide. I hope they also took back a little time to enjoy the sunshine, pick up their kids from school or read a good book. If you want to know the true value of education, look at the dedication and expertise which those who work in schools show every day, whether the school is open or closed.



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