Concern has been expressed within the education sector after the Queen’s Speech, delivered at the re-opening of Parliament last month, made no reference to the recruitment or funding crises facing schools.
The government has also been criticised for not including in the address “robust action to tackle child poverty and disadvantage”.
On education, the speech included just one sentence, highlighting the already publicised policy of tackling so-called “coasting” schools: “Legislation will be brought forward to improve schools and give every child the best start in life, with new powers to take over failing and coasting schools and create more academies.”
The Association of School and College Leaders said the speech was “silent” on funding and recruitment – what it called the “critical issues facing schools”.
The teaching association Voice, meanwhile, said the government seemed more interested in “headlines and structures than in the people needed to deliver education and childcare and the funding that they require to do that”.
The National Association of Head Teachers warned that Department for Education figures expect at least 185,710 more primary school children in the state system in England by 2017/18, while its own survey found that more than half of heads were struggling to recruit at all levels from NQTs to assistant head.
It said: “Unless the government develops a clear plan to fund and organise places in already over-subscribed areas, and to make teaching a more attractive profession, these problems will grow.”
On the coasting schools policy, unions raised concerns that the government’s definition of a coasting school has still not been made clear. Background briefing information, published by the government alongside the Queen’s Speech, said that a coasting definition will be “set out in due course according to a number of factors”. It adds: “(The Education Bill) would make schools that meet a new coasting definition, having shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress, eligible for academisation.”
The National Union of Teachers (NUT), among others, attacked the plans to continue the academisation programme, saying that there was now “a mountain of evidence” showing that there is “no academy effect on standards in schools”.
Concern has also been voiced about the impact that the government’s continued welfare reforms will have on the number of people, including children, who are living in poverty.
The Queen’s Speech stated: “To give new opportunities to the most disadvantaged, my government will expand the Troubled Families programme and continue to reform welfare, with legislation encouraging employment by capping benefits and requiring young people to earn or learn.”
The National Children’s Bureau said is was “disappointing that an overarching strategy to give children a better standard of life seems missing from the new government’s programme, in particular robust action to tackle child poverty and disadvantage”.
Around 3.7 million children are currently living in poverty and the Children’s Society warned this week that even without further cuts to welfare support another 700,000 had been expected to fall into poverty during this Parliament. The charity said the government could be doing “much more”, including ensuring free school meals for all children in poverty, helping families to escape problem debt and offering help with fuel bills.
The NUT echoed these concerns. It stated: “This is a Queen’s Speech which entrenches inequality. Visits to foodbanks will increase as benefit cuts bite, the sale of housing association stock will not address the housing crisis and more families will be uprooted due to the bedroom tax.”
The Queen’s Speech 2015: Reaction
Malcolm Trobe, Association of School and College Leaders: “The (Queen’s Speech) is silent on the two immediate issues facing school and college leaders. There is a looming crisis in both funding and recruitment which must be resolved in order to ensure that schools and colleges have the tools with which to do the job. They need to have a supply of high-quality teachers coming into the profession and sufficient levels of funding to provide the education which young people deserve and which the country needs for its future prosperity. If these critical issues are not addressed, the structural changes planned by the government may not have the desired effect, and the entire education system will be placed under enormous pressure.”
Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers: “This is a Queen’s Speech which entrenches inequality. Visits to foodbanks will increase as benefit cuts bite, the sale of housing association stock will not address the housing crisis and more families will be uprooted due to the bedroom tax.
“The concern for so-called, although as yet undefined ‘coasting schools’ will not be addressed by forced academisation. The NUT believes it should be for local authorities to assist schools. There is now a mountain of evidence which shows that there is no academy effect on standards in schools. Research by the Sutton Trust concluded that the very poor results of some chains – both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support – comprised ‘a clear and urgent problem’.”
Dr Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers: “There is no proof that academies perform better than other types of school and there is great variation in the effectiveness of different academy chains. The announcement that ‘coasting schools’ will face interventions, including possible forced academisation, is a concern, as the government has still not defined what a ‘coasting school’ is. It also remains unclear what interventions failing and coasting academies will face.
“Where are the legions of school leaders willing to be drafted in to work with these schools? The fact remains there is a looming crisis of recruitment and retention of school leaders whose jobs are coming to be as insecure as football managers.”
Deborah Lawson, Voice: “(The government) is failing to address the twin crises of funding and recruitment. It seems that it is more interested in headlines and structures than in the people needed to deliver education and childcare and the funding that they require to do that. Many schools are struggling to recruit headteachers and there is little incentive to take on a job with increasing responsibility and pressure to perform in a very short timescale but decreasing job security.
“There is not only an axe hanging over headteachers’ heads but their budgets too. The constant need to restructure in order to cut costs puts the jobs of staff at risk. Student numbers are rising sharply, yet staff face redundancy due to financial pressures.”
Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers: “The number of children is rising at the same time that recruitment of teachers is becoming harder. Unless the government develops a clear plan to fund and organise places in already over-subscribed areas, and to make teaching a more attractive profession, these problems will grow. Free schools alone will not meet the need for places.
“On recruitment, the government must fund better training and development, and more effective routes into teaching. Offering a starting salary that is attractive to talented graduates would also be a positive step. We need to help schools work effectively together to share skills and make the most of limited resources.
“If the last five years were about accountability and autonomy, the next five years must be about capacity-building: getting the places, teachers and leaders we need, where we need them.”
Cllr David Simmonds, Local Government Association: “Whitehall has acknowledged it lacks the capacity and local knowledge to oversee the 4,400 academies already in England. Councils, with their role at the heart of their community, are able to hold all schools in their areas to account for the quality of the education they provide and should be given the powers to do this.”
Anna Feuchtwang, National Children’s Bureau: "The plans show promise for children and their families, but it is disappointing that an overarching strategy to give children a better standard of life seems missing from the new government’s programme, in particular robust action to tackle child poverty and disadvantage.”
Matthew Reed, The Children’s Society: “3.7 million children already live in poverty and after years of real-terms cuts, further freezes to working age benefits, tax credits and child benefit will only make things worse. The government could do much more for children in poverty by helping families escape problem debt, providing free school meals to all children in poverty, and helping poor families with fuel bills.
“Extending the benefit cap to thousands more families with children – many of whom are working or trying their best to find work, or are full-time single parents of young children – will barely make a dent in the deficit but will lead to more children slipping deeper into poverty.” Photo: iStock