As I am sure you know, the Prime Minister has called a General Election on 8th June. As with any General Election, there will be many issues which will be at stake when the nation votes. I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware of the major education issues of the moment, and their impact on Harrow Way. My hope is that you will ask the candidates about these issues, find out where the different parties stand on them, and use what you find out to help you when you decide where to place your â€œXâ€ on June 8th.
Issue 1: School funding
This is the major issue facing schools â€“ including Harrow Way â€“ at the moment. Schools have been on a â€œflat cashâ€ funding arrangement for several years. This means that the amount of funding we receive has remained exactly the same with no prospect of any increase. However, from this â€œflat cashâ€ we have been required to pay out more as cost pressures continue to rise. For example:
- Pay rises and rising costs due to inflation have been unfunded.
- Employer contribution on teachersâ€™ pensions rose 2.38% from September 2015 â€“ this has been unfunded.
- Main band National Insurance employer contributions increased in April 2016 by 3.4% â€“ this has been unfunded.
In simple terms, we have to pay more out but we arenâ€™t getting any more in. The government has repeatedly said that education funding is at record levels, but the only reason they can say this is because there are more pupils in the system; the per pupil amount has not gone up. The government has also consulted on a new National Funding Formula for schools. Harrow Way will lose out if this formula is introduced as planned next year. Overall, the current situation equates to an 8% real-terms cut in the schools budget by 2020.
The impact of â€œflat cashâ€ coming in with increased cost pressures means that schools up and down the country have less money to spend on education. Less money means fewer teachers which means class sizes get bigger. Larger classes mean less time available for individual pupil support. Less money means fewer opportunities for young people to engage in enrichment activities or educational visits. And less money means reducing the amount of support that can be given to individual students who need it such as those with special educational needs, behavioural issues, low prior attainment or those requiring support for mental health problems. In fact, the Education Select Committee published a report just this week which said â€œfinancial pressures are restricting the provision of mental health services in schools and colleges. The next Government must review the effect of the budget reductions in the education sector.â€
This is the hard truth of education funding at the moment. We have continued to work very hard to provide the outstanding education that we know your children are entitled to, but without additional funding that will be difficult to sustain. Please make sure that the candidates for election on June 8th hear the message that proper funding for schools is your priority too.
Questions to ask your local candidates on school funding:
- Spending on schools may be at record levels, but that is because we have more children of school age than ever before and costs are rising. How will you ensure that school budgets are protected in real terms for the duration of the next parliament?
- The nationâ€™s children should be provided with a broad curriculum, great support and enriching activities. Is your party willing to fund schools properly so our children have the same opportunities as previous generations?
- The Education Select Committee noted that half of all cases of mental illness in adult life start before the age of 15, and that one in 10 children aged between five and 16 have had a diagnosed mental disorder. What will your party do to ensure that mental health services for young people are properly funded and able to cope with demand?
Issue 2: Evidence-based policy
One of the frustrations of teachers and school leaders is the tendency for government to make policy for education without a firm or robust evidence base. Sometimes, it seems as if their policy decisions are based more on personal experience than on research of what actually works in schools. Therefore, as a minimum, we would ask that any future government provide a clear basis of evidence for any proposals, hold transparent consultation before any policy decisions are finalised, and establish, at the outset, evaluation models that ensure that any proposals will benefit young people from disadvantaged as well as advantaged backgrounds.
The current governmentâ€™s proposals to allow the creation of new grammar schools, or Labourâ€™s proposal to provide free school meals for all primary school children, fail this test. There is no evidence that either of these things will help improve the standards of education in Britain. The creation of more grammar schools, along with, inevitably, hundreds â€“ possibly thousands â€“ of secondary modern schools, will be hugely damaging to the nationâ€™s children. A second class education for the many, particularly, but not exclusively, for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, is not just educationally unacceptable but morally and economically disastrous.
The current Conservative Government has held a consultation on new grammar schools but refuses to publish the results. Yet the evidence is overwhelming: selection damages the quality of education a nationâ€™s children receives. What we must demand is a high quality education for every child, not selection and privilege for the few. What will make a difference is creating the conditions to ensure that high quality teaching and learning takes place in every classroom in the country, by ensuring a supply of great teachers into a properly funded school system.
Questions to ask your local candidates on evidence-based policy:
- What evidence is there that the education policies in your manifesto will make a positive difference to all children, both advantaged and disadvantaged?
- New grammar schools mean new secondary moderns. What is your position on creating new grammar schools for the few and, as a result, new secondary moderns for the many?
Issue 3: teacher recruitment and retention
We are very fortunate at Harrow Way to have a full staffing complement of highly-qualified, expert teachers â€“ Ofsted also recognised this. However, nationally the teaching profession is facing a significant staffing shortfall: too few graduates are training to be teachers, and too many qualified teachers are leaving the profession. It is therefore vital that all political parties pledge to celebrate teaching as a great career and improve incentives to encourage more graduates into the profession, by improving career development support and opportunities for teachers in order to retain more great teachers in the profession.
Questions to ask your local candidates on teacher recruitment and retention:
- Great teachers are at the heart of a great school. What is your party going to do to make teaching a more attractive career to our best graduates?
- The current government has missed the targets for teacher recruitment for the past four years. What are you going to do to ensure your party would hit the teacher recruitment targets in the future?
Conclusion: use your vote!
I recognise that we serve a diverse community which will include the full range of political views. It is not my intention, nor is it my place, to influence your vote. What I hope I have done is lay out the key issues in this election which impact on Harrow Way and schools across the country, so that you can ask well-informed questions and make your own decisions based on the answers you receive.
The final thing that I would say, however, is that we are incredibly fortunate to live in a democracy where every citizen has the right to help choose representatives to govern us in parliament. I would urge every member of our school community who is eligible to vote to register by 22nd May and to exercise their democratic right and responsibility to vote on June 8th.