An education manifesto

Written by: Dr Mary Bousted | Published:
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers

Brexit is important, but this election must also be about education, argues Dr Mary Bousted

After promising 17 times that she would not call a General Election, Theresa May, did a U-turn. Spooked, perhaps, by the prospect of what are, undoubtedly, going to be very tough Brexit negotiations, she decided, while walking in Wales, that she should go to the country. Her mantra of strong and stable government is repeated at every opportunity. Thus, and not so subtly, she reinforces her position that this is a one issue election, and the issue is Brexit.

Of course, Brexit, or more accurately, on what terms the UK negotiates a deal to leave the EU, is a hugely important issue and one with potentially the most serious consequences for the UK.

But it is not the only issue – even though the prime minister would want it to be so.

And while the electorate’s eyes are focused on Brussels, things happening nearer to home, right under their noses, fail to get the attention they deserve.

One of the most important is education. Our post-Brexit future requires the UK to be a more productive, more highly skilled nation – able to compete on better terms for trade and investment in global markets.

But education standards are being threatened. Schools in England are facing £3 billion in funding cuts a year by 2020. Joint analysis by the NUT and ATL reveals that 92 per cent of schools will have real-terms cuts in government funding between 2015/16 to 2019/20. Secondary school pupils will lose an average of £554 of yearly funding, while primary pupils will lose £403. And these cuts are being imposed at a time of unprecedented change in education – and, in particular, changes to the curriculum, testing and qualifications, all of which are expensive for schools to implement.

The National Audit Office has warned that, faced with funding cuts of this scale, school leaders, who have been left by the government to get on with it, are likely to make very poor decisions – including making education staff redundant. Already, at ATL, we are seeing a rise in redundancies as school leaders struggle to make ends meet. But this makes no sense. Pupil numbers are at an all-time high and 750,000 more school places will be needed in England by 2025 to cope with the rising pupil population.

The post-Brexit challenge and the rising pupil population means that whichever government is in power after the election must be serious about education and prepared to provide the resources to enable our schools to succeed. That is why ATL’s manifesto calls for:

  • Full and fair funding for all schools: Including for SEN provision, post-16 and early education, provided through a fair, adequately funded formula which does not divert resources to consultants instead of classrooms, nor to expensive free schools and selective education.
  • Enough teachers and support staff: With high-quality initial training, more on-going development and a national pay structure with the public sector pay cap lifted, so qualified teachers stay in the profession and all classes are taught by a specialist with access to fairly paid support staff.
  • Enough school places: Every area with a local, long-term plan for providing school places, focused on where the places are most needed, without increasing class sizes.
  • Staff and pupil wellbeing: Addressing staff mental health by cutting workload driven by cuts, policy change and unreliable Ofsted inspections and restoring pupils’ mental health by rethinking excessive testing.
  • Broadening students’ opportunities: Through high-quality skills education in both school curricula and post-16 training.

These demands provide a strong and sound basis for any political party to tackle the problems facing our education system. They could be used as a benchmark against which to judge the education policies put forward by political parties. Education professionals should question just where their local Parliamentary candidates stand on these important issues, and vote accordingly.

  • Dr Mary Bousted is the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk/election


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