Education beyond the election

Published:

After the election, will the voices of children and young people finally get the attention they deserve, asks Anna Feuchtwang

As you read this, we’ll be going to the polls. Or – if your busy schedule means you only get to read SecEd a few days after publication – we’ll probably be receiving hourly news updates on politicians’ behind-closed-doors efforts to form a coalition or even a minority government that has a hope of lasting. 

In all this, what might the future hold for education policy – and the school staff and pupils who have to live it every day?

All the main parties agree that the education budget needs to be protected. However, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the other services that teachers and pupils rely upon to teach and learn effectively – such as public health, early education and family support. It is inevitable that cuts to other, unprotected services will be significant.

While politicians often say they won’t get involved in the details of teaching methods and the curriculum, we know they do, they probably always will, and some would say they should (within reason). 

And all the parties have a view on what the pupils should learn. Labour and the Lib Dems want to see more on children’s health and wellbeing in the curriculum, with statutory sex and relationships education (SRE) and PSHE respectively. UKIP agrees on SRE but only for secondary school pupils. 

According to the Conservatives, every 11-year-old will be expected to know their timestables by heart, perform long division and complex multiplication, read a book and write a short story. 

There is consensus across the parties on the need for a greater focus on vocational education, whether through a network of National Colleges (Conservative and Lib Dems) or a Technical Baccalaureate (Labour), and Apprenticeships are a shared priority too. However, debates about whether all teachers needs to be qualified teachers continue. 

The parties see that the safety and welfare of children in school is a priority. Most parties have commitments to tackle bullying, and the two leading parties agree on the need for more teacher training on managing behaviour in the classroom. 

Whatever happens, at NCB we know that the young people we work with, through Young NCB, the Council for Disabled Children, the Anti-bullying Alliance and the Sex Education Forum, have plenty to teach us.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have shown their confidence in young people to participate responsibly, pledging to give young people aged 16 and 17 the right to vote during the next Parliament. 

But whatever unfolds, our priority will be to ensure that pupils themselves have a voice in decisions about what and how they learn – influencing both national and local policy and day-to-day decisions at school. 

The recent publication of The Connected School showed the advantages of allowing teachers to use the curriculum boldly and ambitiously, building closer relationships with the communities they serve and drawing on the needs and views of the families and pupils who rely on them (for more on this publication, see my previous article for SecEd at http://bit.ly/1JA9H0r).

Whatever cocktail of alliances prevails after the 2015 election, policy-makers should remember that children and young people have a view on the subjects that will be important to their futures. 

They should have a say when designing teaching methods to keep them engaged in the classroom, and they can tell us what types of assessment help them perform to their best. I hope our students are the winners over the next five years and get the say they are due.

  • Anna Feuchtwang is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Visit www.ncb.org.uk

Further information
An analysis of how party manifestos reference children and education is available at www.ncb.org.uk/what-we-do/policy

  


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