With the General Election just around the corner and with education high on the agenda, we've been listening to the professionals in the sector to find out what they want a future government to deliver so our children get the best deal at school.
We have looked at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and campaigning organisations Fairer Funding For All Schools (FFFS) and the Headteachers' Roundtable. This is what they are saying.
The most controversial of debates is around funding in schools which is set to decline in real terms across the board by 2020. This means that any extra funding which is allocated to schools is immediately eroded through inflation and the need to pay for additional costs such as pension contributions and apprenticeship levies. Education professionals and campaigners want 'per-pupil funding' (that is the pot of money each school has been receiving, divided by the number of pupils at the school) to be protected to rise with inflation so that the predicted shortfall of approximately £3 billion is reversed.
In addition, the new national funding formula will see the established pots of money being redistributed to schools around the country, but an estimated 98% will find their pot reduced (this could equate to, for example, fewer teachers, bigger class sizes and less resources). Unions and campaigners say the main problem is that there is simply not enough money in the first place to enable schools to operate properly. They are calling for the overall budget to be increased so that a fairer funding formula can better support schools financially to manage the growing pressures they face and to ensure that they are not disadvantaged simply because of their postcode. Indeed, some question the value of investing further in the likes of free schools and would rather see money re-directed back into mainstream state schools.
Furthermore, many groups have been rallying teachers and parents directly. The NAHT set up School Cuts with NUT so the public can see the amounts being cut and FFFS have been supporting parent groups to form across the country and are planning another day of action on May 26th.
Teacher retention and recruitment
The unions are urging political parties to do more to address teacher retention and recruitment. They would like to see the implementation of a strategy which ensures teachers are recognised as 'high-status' professionals where talented individuals are rewarded fairly and supported with on-going career development opportunities.
In addition, they highlight the need to address workload issues and to stabilise the education system so that teachers are not constantly having to respond to new policy requirements in education. Indeed, some are calling for political parties to pledge that no further reform to the curriculum or qualification system is made for the duration of the next parliament beyond existing plans, while also highlighting the importance of addressing the mental health of teachers and children who are coming under increasing pressure as a result of ever-changing government policy.
There is a general backlash against the constant changes in education which tend to focus on testing, rather than learning. The unions suggests that structural changes, like the expansion of grammar schools makes education choices and accessibility more complex and can impact negatively on children through such a selective system. Meanwhile they are calling on political parties to promise to consult professional associations on any proposed new education policies. They want education to be teacher-led rather than dictated by policymakers with insufficient evidence to support change.
In addition, they want to see children being given the opportunity to learn through a broad range of topics which not only supports them academically, but also provides them with high quality skills in the post-16 phase of their education.
A clear call from unions is to ensure government and policy makers work more closely with the professionals delivering education services to our children. A better working relationship will not only engender a greater respect between professionals and policymakers, it will ultimately result in a fairer and better learning environment for children and families across the country.
To see the detail of these key stakeholders' manifestos and General Election priorities visit:
- NAHT – The independent trade union and professional organisation representing members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland outline their General Election priorities
- ASCL – The professional association representing schools, colleges and leaders in education outline their General Election manifesto
- ATL – The union for education professionals outline what they are calling for in their education manifestos - Vote for Education
- NUT – The largest teaching union representing teachers in England and Wales outline their education manifesto
- Fairer Funding For All – The independent, parent-led campaigning group working to stop cuts to education funding, outline their position
- Headteachers Roundtable – The headteachers' group operating as a think tank to influence education policy, outline their position in their Doorstep Manifesto.