As today is designated ‘social mobility day’, where Nick Clegg darkens our screens to explain that what he is saying now, he actually truly believes in – as opposed to everything he said before, which he said to get elected – it’s worth looking again at one of Michael Gove’s bright ideas: the Education Endowment Fund (to be run by the Sutton Trust and the Impetus Trust – see here for details)
The Fund has been set up with grand aims. It is designed to address the monumentally complex problem which is routinely explained by Gove as follows: only 40 pupils out of 80,000 on free school meals end up going to Oxford or Cambridge. This often-aired statistic is a crude measure, but makes the obvious point well enough – poor kids don’t do as well as rich kids.
Odd, you may think, that ‘social mobility day’ comes from a Government that has trebled tuition fees and all-but knocked education maintenance allowance on the head, but let’s stick with them for a moment.
After all, Gove has raided the piggy bank to put £125 million into the Fund, to pay for innovative ideas which will help disadvantaged children.
But, slow down, don’t think for a moment that this is £125 million coming to a school near you. Far from it – this is an Endowment Fund, so the hard cash is limited to the interest earned on the investment. Assuming a safe and steady return of about 5% – this amounts to a pot of £6 million or so a year.
Without wishing to appear cynical, it would take a blinkered enthusiast – like those who believed Canute could turn back the tide – to think that 6 million quid will somehow reverse the very deep-seated educational inequalities Gove identifies.
To illustrate the merest drop in the deepest ocean this Fund represents, here’s a comparison (crude, I’ll admit, but if it’s good enough for Gove…):
Her Majesty’s Government rustle up £125 million to spend on the nation’s needy – Eton School holds an investment portfolio of about the same amount.
So, the Government’s collective will to address educational inequality equates roughly to the financial strength of one private school (remarkably, a few years back, a loss of £4 million on the private school’s investment was described by the bursar as ‘a pity’. And aside from being extraordinarily wealthy, Eton benefits from tax exemptions, courtesy of their charitable status. Puts the Endowment Fund in some kind of context, doesn’t it?).
No doubt something good will come of the Fund. My guess, two years down the line, there will be somewhere for Clegg to visit and grin for the camera – just to show he cares.
But will it address the fissures that run deep through our society? Will it turn the relentless tide that piles opportunity on top of wealth? King Canute proved his point, he showed that words are not enough. Nor, unfortunately is £6 million – if the Education Endowment Fund is as good as it gets, Gove and Clegg will end up in deep and choppy seas.