A Daily Kos article currently circulating on Facebook compares American schoolteachers and childminders and calculates that teachers are far cheaper, at $1.42 per child per hour.
How about British teachers?
The main scale annual pay for classroom teachers runs from £21,804 to £37,124 (if you break through into the upper pay scale) and the statutory minimum hours (not counting marking, preparation and voluntary self-development) are 1,265 per year. Given a class of 30 pupils, that works out at 57p - 98p per child per hour (in London, 72p - £1.20.)
Nationally, the pupil-teacher ratio is lower, because some classes are smaller (e.g. with "A"-level groups) and there are teaching roles outside the classroom. On the other hand, teachers actually work much more than the statutory hours (ask anyone who's married to one), so if the pupil-teacher ratio is a third less but teachers work 50% extra hours, the rate remains unchanged.
By way of comparison, the Daycare Trust reckons toddlercare costs average £4.26 per hour.
But we're not comparing like for like: day nurseries have overheads, and so do schools. Overall, including additional amounts for some special needs provision, "core funding" across primary and secondary schools is around £4,000 per head. Even that is an under-estimate. It doesn't take into account higher levels of special needs, or other educational expediture. Three years ago, the average spend per pupil in England was £6,199 per year.
Also, if we're using the consumer model, we need to look at children's hours, not teachers'; but they're not fixed. The old law provided for at least two hours of secular instruction in the morning and two in the afternoon (as to subjects, only religious education was compulsory); today, in England and Wales, there are no minimum school hours, only a requirement for schools to be open for 380 sessions per year. However, a child's entitlement is generally taken as 25 hours a week, which multiplied by 38 weeks equals 950 hours a year.
That suggests a cost per child (in England in 2010) of £6,199 / 950 = £6.53 per hour.
Then you have to add on the cost of capital expenditure programs. At a guess, if it were run as a business, the compulsory education system would probably have to charge something like £10 an hour.
Which brings us to the question of privatisation. As with other formerly publicly-owned assets, there is a potential bonanza in education. The trick will be to get the State to pump in resources first, then transfer them into private hands at an unrealistically low price, together with a ready-made workforce for which the new business hasn't had to pay the costs of training and recruitment.
It would accelerate the process if nominally independent inspectors ran round the country denigrating schools which have a more challenging intake, putting them into "special measures" in preparation for rebirth as semi-autonomous "Academies" and eventually, privately-run outfits.
Oh, the money to be made! For you can squash down the salaries of the teachers, cut corners in all sorts of ways, boost administrators' remuneration and maybe even organise a massive debt-funded sellout-and-run, as Southern Cross Healthcare did with old people's homes.
A fantasy? No, look to the USA, where we started this piece, and see what's happening with "charter schools", educational publishers and testers, and the banks: Yes! Magazine's infographic here is very disturbing.
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