Meanwhile, outside Westminster…

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

While all talk focuses on the hung Parliament election outcome, our education challenges remain. Deborah Lawson outlines three areas for action as ministers get back to work

In the last three years, we have experienced two General Elections, two referendums, two political party leadership elections, one change of prime minister and two education secretaries. Four of those events have taken place in the last 12 months.

We have also seen a White Paper – Educational Excellence Everywhere – and a Green Paper – Schools that Work for Everyone. Both had some merit, but controversy about how to achieve the aspirations endures, not least about which policy directions in the former survive and fall with the publication of the latter.

Brexit will, of course, continue to dominate the political agenda for years to come. However, it – and the political manoeuvrings at Westminster – must not be allowed to push education policy and funding down the agenda to “any other business”.

How high the new government ranks education among all the other competing funding priorities remains to be seen.

Funding: Funding is clearly a, if not the, major issue for education. Before the election was called and manifestos published, ministers and officials made it clear that any new funding formula must not exceed the current funding allocation. The government had previously promised to protect education funding. In meetings with ministers and officials, we have argued that, although a fair formula is required, cutting up the same pie in a different way is not the answer. We need a bigger pie. If previous policies on grammar schools and academisation are dropped, this presents an opportunity for funding to be redirected to where it is most needed and can make a real difference.

Recruitment and retention: Another continuing serious issue. It appears that growing numbers of teachers are leaving the profession, while targets for recruitment of new teachers have been missed for several years, leading to crisis in many parts of the country. In evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), Voice again made strong representation on the impact of performance-related pay, lack of a national pay scale and the inability of schools to make pay awards because of dire financial circumstances. When giving evidence to the STRB, I suggested that reprofiling the education funding pot could produce better funding for schools. Funding currently earmarked for the development of grammar schools or ineffective recruitment campaigns would be more effective if paid to teachers and used to address the real cost pressures facing schools.

Workload: Following on from the three workload working groups last year, which Voice was part of, all unions collaborated with the DfE to produce posters and leaflets promoting recommendations from the three workload reports. We have promoted the posters and leaflets in hard copy and electronic form, but have, along with others, expressed concern to the secretary of state that information alone will not reduce workload. Without capacity and resource at school level and a review of the accountability system which, along with funding, continues to drive and add to the burden, workload will not reduce. As a consequence, teachers will continue to leave the profession early, preventing knowledge transfer to new recruits, which is unfair to new teachers and forces more reliance on the goodwill of all teachers to work excessive hours over and above that which can reasonably be expected.

Once the post-election turmoil settles down, the government must prioritise these key education issues in order to move the sector and profession away from the cliff edge that they are rapidly approaching.


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