Success in Education is More Than Funding - A Response to Nina Cave

Craig Wright writes in response to a recent article by Nina Cave, where she outlined how the success of the Michaela school could be repeated if all schools were funded properly. 

In Cave’s recent blog about Michaela School she outlined how the success of Michaela could be repeated if all schools were funded properly. Success in education is more than an issue of funding – it’s about leadership, vision and relentlessly high expectations for every child.

It is important to be clear from the start; Tory austerity has damaged our education system. Kellogg’s report[1] shows the unforgiveable evil of hunger in our classrooms, a raft of agencies[2] have shown us the damage that spiralling uniform costs and expensive school trips have done to children’s experience of education. What Cave asserts is that increased spending would lead to improved outcomes for students. This simply isn’t the case - Funding for poorer students is having a promising impact through the Pupil Premium, but increased school expenditure is not linked to improved outcomes[3]. Mbiti [4] conducted randomised trials and found extra funding had no impact on test scores, equally Hough and Loeb[5] and Strand[6] found much the same in their evaluations. Simply, increased funding does not equal an improved system.

Cave moves on to query the longevity of success of Michaela students. Firstly, students need strong outcomes. Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows achieving 5 GCSE grades adds £80,000 to a student’s earnings over their lifetime. A further £60,000 is added if they go on to achieve at least 2 A levels[7]. If we want to lift our students out of poverty, we need to give them the tools to do so – strong outcomes improve life chances. When it comes to a ‘thirst for knowledge’, Michaela understands something fundamental; motivation directs behavior toward achievement and therefore is an important determinant of academic success[8]. Put simply, success comes first and motivation follows. The use of rote learning encourages success and this becomes addictive.

What does make an effective education system?

First and foremost, leadership is vital for the success of any school. Ofsted have never found a school which has made improvement without strong leadership. In England, schools where Ofsted rates the quality of Leadership and Management higher than the school’s overall performance are ten times as likely to see improvement in their overall performance at their next inspection than those where leadership and management is rated worse than performance overall[9]. Furthermore, effective leadership – one with vision and efficacy, leads to sustained improvement. Research shows that, across sectors, strong leaders engage staff in their vision, establish clear expectations, plan strategically, develop others and create a positive, constructive climate[10]. Katherine Birbalsingh is undoubtedly a highly effective leader and a quick scan of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers demonstrates the unwavering commitment of her staff to her vision that all children can and deserve to succeed.

There has been much criticism of the ‘no excuses’ philosophy in education. Many mistake ‘no excuses’ for ‘no love’. I worked in a school were 44% of students were eligible for Free School Meals. We battled against student’s low expectations of themselves, their behaviour and their futures. We changed expectations by showing them every day we loved them. When Universal Credit was rolled out, we opened a school foodbank to keep them fed – staff contributed food, money and time to ensure they did not go hungry. We did not tolerate low expectations and we did not make excuses, but we loved all of them.

Our education system is world class because of the fantastic teachers and leaders who work in the system. I refute that simply adding more funding would make it better, but I accept it wouldn’t hurt.


Craig Wright is an Assistant Principal in the North East of England and Labour Councillor for Ladgate Ward, Middlesbrough. He is the Education & Skills spokesperson for Middlesbrough Labour Group. He tweets at @CllrCraigWright





[3] Holmlund, H., McNally, S. and Viarengo, M. (2010) Does money matter for schools? Economics of Education Review, 29, pp.1154–1164

[4] Mbiti, I., Muralidharan, K., Romero, M., Schipper, Y., Manda, C., Rajani, R. (2019). Inputs, Incentives, and Complementarities in Education: Experimental Evidence from Tanzania. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 134(3), p.1627–1673.

[5] Hough, H., & Loeb, S. (2013). Can a District-Level Teacher Salary Incentive Policy Improve Teacher Recruitment and Retention? Policy Analysis for California Education.

[6] Strand, S. (2010) ‘Do some schools narrow the gap? Differential school effectiveness by ethnicity, gender, poverty and prior attainment’, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 21(3), pp.289–314.


[8] Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

[9] The School Leadership Challenge 2022. London: Teach First, Teaching Leaders and The Future Leaders Trust with analysis by McKinsey & Co. 2016

[10] V Robinson, M Hohepa, C Lloyd. School leadership and student outcomes: Identifying what works and why. Coventry: CUREE. 2009. P Tamkin, G Pearson, W Hirsh, S Constable. Exceeding Expectation: the Principles of Outstanding Leadership. London: The Work Foundation. 2010


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