Carpe diem. What is around the corner for education spending?
Like any marketplace, the education sector is susceptible to spending peaks and troughs. So what are the current sources of optimism and concern?
The new programmes of study introduced for September 2015 presented a unique opportunity for organisations that produce curriculum resources. This includes the development of new resources, as well as the provision of them.
The emergence of new technologies are often followed closely by their take-up in schools and, more importantly, additional funding for such provision. The education sector is also willing to try different solutions in order to find the one that best suits their needs; for example, the variety of tablets available to teachers.
The expansion of internet access has opened up the world to education sector suppliers. Companies are no longer restricted to supplying schools in their local area or country. Today, as long as your products and services fulfil a curriculum or any other educational need, every school in the world is a potential customer.
With new resources come new demands. Teachers are no longer expected to be simply the fonts of all knowledge when it comes to their subject; they must also master interactive whiteboards, tablets and digital resources. Therfore, with technology development especially, there is a need for training. However, in such a sensitive and often bureaucratic sector, there is also a need for health and safety, child welfare, data protection and other such training courses and qualifications.
In addition to those elements of the national funding formula, there are a range of pupil-focused funding initiatives. One key criteria of Ofsted inspection success is a school’s effective spending of their Pupil Premium allocation; are those students for whom the money was intended actually benefitting from it? Suppliers with resources aimed specifically at low-attainers have a great opportuntiy in targeting schools due for an inspection.
The shortage of school places is well-known and the provision of an additional c.134,000 secondary school desks by September 2023 will require a combination of refurbishment and building. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme has been replaced by the much smaller-scale Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP), but additional funding for extra school places has been announced.
Budget cuts & reallocations
Like healthcare, the education budget is traditionally protected from budget cuts, and the same was true of the previous coalition government’s agenda. However, while stasis is presented, the reality often consists of real-term reductions and reallocations. A freeze in any budget ultimately results in a real-terms decrease as the rate of inflation rises year-on-year. Also, it is too simplistic just to look at the overall billions dedicated to the education budget. A proportion of that total may be ring-fenced for certain programmes and initiatives, or may only be available to schools in particular parts of the country.
While education budgets may be protected to an extent, the priorities of successive governments may not be aligned. A prominent example in recent years has been the cancelling of Labour’s BSF in favour of the coalition’s more low-key PSBP. While fears over the future of academies and free schools under a Labour government may be allayed by the complexities of unpicking the system, any such programmes are subject to the will of the incumbent government and its education secretary.
Textbooks to eBooks
Apple unveiled iBooks and iTunesU at its education seminar in New York in January 2012; Students would no longer need to carry heavy textbooks around their schools and campuses now that all curriculum content could be downloaded to their iPads. Subscribing to this technological solution, in February 2013 the UAE’s Ministry of Education announced that it would be replacing all textbooks with iPads. While this creates a whole new realm of opportunities for curriculum providers, the onus (and cost) is on publishers to transfer their successful hard copy titles to a digital format.
Extending rep forces’ contracts
Education suppliers with external sales forces often employ those reps on 35-week contracts. The move away from a prescribed school year with a 6-week summer break may lead to an increased need for full year-round permanent contracts. Such a change will increase the overhead of employing such teams, though it would be hoped that this would also create more oportunities to sell year-round.