This 2019 Panorama documentary is a case study in the effects of education funding cuts on one primary school in a deprived area of the U.K. in 2019.
This 30 minute documentary follows one primary school in a deprived area exploring the impact of cuts to education funding since 2010, and investigating the strategies adopted by the school management to deal with these funding cuts.
This particular school seems to have been hit especially hard because of its location in an area with high levels of material and cultural deprivation, meaning it educates a high proportion of disadvantaged children.
The main strategy adopted by the school is to reduce the number of support staff – a number of special education needs (SEN) pupils require additional support in class and we see how the school is facing the possibility of cutting up to seven support staff.
As a result, the parents of one pupil with autism have made the decision to pull him out of mainstream education and get him a place in a specialist school, because of the threat of his support worker disappearing, evidence of schools becoming less inclusive.
One of the staff being sacked is the librarian, and so some of the older pupils are being trained up to manage the library.
One of the initiatives the management insist on keeping alive is the school food bank: pupils who have limited food at home (maybe because their parent’s pay check has been delayed) can take home food parcels.
Relevance to A-level sociology
There are several examples of what material deprivation looks like in real life (lack of food etc.) and how this has a negative impact on students’ education.
Useful for adding to analysis of the effects of New Right/ Neoliberal education policy (cuts to education funding)
This is a good example of how education funding cuts have a negative impact on education, having a disproportionately negative impact on SEN pupils and pupils from deprived backgrounds.
However, at the same time this particular case study is an example of how such funding cuts can be managed effectively in order to minimize negative impact. This might suggest support for the New Right – IF we get competent management in schools, we can still provide a decent standard of education with fewer resources.
Having said that, Marxists might argue the selection of this school for this documentary is ideological – it gives the impression that ‘good management’ can still, on the whole, provide an effective education for most students, without the whole system falling apart.
The broader truth could be that the cuts are having more negative effects, but we don’t see this because of selection bias in sampling (we see a school with good management doing OK rather than average management struggling to cope).
Methodological strengths and limitations
Good validity (to an extent) as we get to see the negative consequences of educating funding cuts in one school, however one has to question the selection of content for the documentary – this is entirely focused on the negatives – for every pupil impacted negatively, there might be 10 who have hardly been impacted at all – the later kind of students don’t make for an interesting documentary.
Limited representativeness – this is only one school among thousands, and it’s unlikely the experience of this school will mirror the experience of other schools. The management and staff at this school are probably more competent than in the average school – the less competent you are, the less likely you are to let a film crew in to film you for a few months!
Ironically this documentary aired around the same time as Boris Johnson announced an increase in education funding, so it’s potentially already out of date. However, IF we come out of the EU without a deal this might send the economy into a downward spiral and the squeeze on education funding may continue.
Finally, while useful to ‘bring to life’ complex sociological issues, always keep in mind that documentaries are themselves social constructions, which reflect the biases of the producers.