More Money Won't Help Schools, Says British M.P.
Washington--Public education's ailments cannot be cured by large doses of money, nor can they be helped by reducing the ratio of teachers to students, according to a British deputy minister of education.
Rhodes Boyson, a Conservative Member of Parliament and an official in the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, made these and other observations during a public address sponsored here last week by the Education Department's office for intergovernmental and interagency affairs.
"In the 1960's, there was a great belief that education would bring in the New Jerusalem, the Second Coming, and therefore people put more and more money into it, hoping that by doing so they would increase their standard of living," Mr. Boyson said.
But in Britain, he continued, experience has proven that "there is no relationship between the amount of money that a nation spends on education and the economic progress that a nation can achieve as a result of such expenditures."
Until the mid-1970's, he said, Britain devoted a higher percentage of its gross national product to education than did the United States, Japan, or West Germany.
Furthermore, between 1960 and 1980, the British government increased in real terms its per-pupil expenditures by 60 percent at the primary level, and by 44 percent at the secondary level, "the fastest rate of increase in the history of the nation," he continued.
At the same time, he said, pupil-to-teacher ratios were reduced by about 25 percent. Today, that ratio is 18.5 to 1, "the lowest it has ever been in Britain and probably the lowest ratio in the Western world."
"Now, considering those facts, one would expect to see an increase in effectiveness, a direct relationship between expenditure and achievement," Mr. Boyson said. But in Britain, he continued, "this has not been the case."
The British public, like its American counterpart, takes note of students' standardized-test scores as a gauge of educational progress, Mr. Boyson said.
In Britain, he explained, all 16-year-old students of "reasonably high ability," about 25 percent of all students this age, are required to take a rigorous examination.
Between 1958 and 1968, the percentage of students earning the equivalent of A's on the examination's five parts doubled, he said.
"Our optimism of these years was based on solid fact," he continued. "But this increase peaked in 1971, and since that year the scores have remained literally static, with slight increases in one year offset by decreases in the next."
Another measure of educational progress in Britain, he said, is the number of students from the nation's "manual," or working, class who complete high school and enroll in college.
"During the 1920's the percentage of such students was approximately 22 percent," he said. "This percentage peaked during the period between 1968 and 1971, when it reached 32 percent of the total. Since that time, the percentage has fallen back to the mid-20-percent range, "right back where it was" in the period following World War I.
Mr. Boyson blamed this decline in educational progress, in part, on the rapid expansion of the nation's teaching force. "The expansion of the number of teachers has resulted in a decline in the standards of all teachers," he said. "The more that you expand the force, the more you risk bringing in people who possibly are not qualified to teach.''
In 1978, he said, only 5 percent of all teachers in Britain had passed the standard English portion of the examination that was administered to them when they were 16-year-olds in high school. Another 37 percent were unable to pass the mathematics section of the examination, "and these are people who presumably teach elementary arithmetic," he added.
'A Great Disservice'
In addition, the selectivity of British schools has diminished, according to Mr. Boyson. "All students are not born with the same mental capacity, and to treat all students similarly in this respect is to do a great disservice to the smartest students," he said.
"Placing a very bright 14-year-old in a class with a very dim 14-year-old is incredibly cruel and persons who advocate such treatment should be shot," he said.
To bolster educational progress, Britain's Conservative Government has instituted several reforms that have made education in the nation more "consumer-oriented," Mr. Boyson said. "Today, parents have the right to state which school they prefer that their children attend, and if they cannot receive such placement they can appeal to a specially-created panel," he said.
Furthermore, all schools in the nation are required to provide parents with brochures detailing aspects of their curriculum, their policies on matters such as corporal punishment, and average student test scores over a five-year period.
The Thatcher Government is also considering the establishment of a system of education vouchers, he added. An experimental system of this type is now being tested in one of the nation's largest counties, he added.