It was a long night; more so for some politicians and party leaders than me. Weak and wobbly leadership now needs steady as you go, don’t rock the boat leadership. Taking big political gambles is probably off the cards; so, what next for education and schools?
This election featured education, as a key issue, for the first time in decades. The lack of funding for schools and multiple campaigns hit hard and every political party promised more money for schools. Whilst predictions in the current political climate are a mugs game (ergo, I’m a mug), the Conservative Party Manifesto pledge to increase funding by £4 billion, over the five years of the Parliament, is probably a safe bet. Whether they will find it from scrapping universal infant free school meals (remember “Thatcher the milk snatcher” sound bite stuck) or a magic money tree is now more open to debate. Austerity and paying down the national debt, or at least attempting to, may not be so much of a priority when a leadership challenge and even another General Election can’t be ruled out.
Whilst additional funding is welcome it is insufficient to address the challenges faced by many schools. It’s £3 billion a year that the National Audit Office calculated schools would be short of. This doesn’t take into account the capital costs of repairing and maintaining schools.
The National Funding Formula is one that is likely to come to fruition particularly given the pledge that no school will lose money. Take care with this one. This isn’t a real terms increase as the funding won’t be increased in line with inflation nor will it take account of the significantly increased national insurance and pension contributions school have to pay. In short, the damaging loss of teachers and support staff will continue; the current generation of schoolchildren will lose out.
Despite much talk of no magic money trees, funding can always be found; it simply depends what your priorities are. Cue the triple lock remaining on pensions and the “dementia tax” being radically altered or dropped all together. The Pupil Premium funding is likely to be protected but I can’t see a lot of appetite for swapping universal infant free school meals for a 7 pence breakfast. It is simply no longer worth the hassle.
The continuation of Justine Greening MP as Secretary of State for Education is good news. She grasped the enormity of the curriculum and examination changes facing schools and teachers and is looking to help us manage our way out of the mess. The Primary School Assessment consultation may be used as a means of bringing a welcome end to Key Stage 1 assessments but I expect more prevaricating than decision making when it comes to a baseline assessment. A pilot here or there and a consultation will all give the impression of moving forward whilst not actually doing very much. Or put more positively piloting something then discussing it with the profession would be a welcome change to whole system, untested imposition of policy from on high.
Talk of a more knowledge rich curriculum can be implemented with stealth, some funding and changes to Key Stage 2 assessments in Primary Schools. I’m not sure where they’ll go with the E-Bacc; I know what I’d like to happen. The yet to be published consultation on the E-Bacc from eons ago may just make the department think twice. This is probably one of a number of issues whose implementation may depend on how much vocal opposition occurs when something is mooted or announced. Expect a few policy proposal dances that go one step forward – slowly, slowly – and two quick steps back. Politicians are rightly and understandably nervous. Justine Greening MP had a majority of 1,554 last week down from 10,180 in 2010.
Expecting 11 years old to know their times tables is sensible but more tests leading to unrest in schools, unhappy parents and social media implosion. More accountability at Key Stage 3 may also have disappeared into the long grass; it’s not a big enough school improvement lever compared to finding enough school places and teachers to teach the increasing number of pupils in schools over the next ten years.
Retention & Recruitment
All parties’ manifestos were pretty weak on the crushing educational issue of our time; retaining and recruiting sufficient high quality teachers. Unlike funding you can’t quickly turn the taps on to solve the problem. Politicians simply haven’t grasped the workload issues driven by the pernicious, high stakes, cliff edged and utterly unhelpful accountability system we have. Rather than asking Ofsted to do more things or check up on this or that in schools it is time for a fundamental, root and branch, rethink of accountability and Ofsted.
Spending a billion and now potentially some more on bursaries, with no requirement to actually teach once you’ve had a £40,000 gap year, fails to meet the test of basic common sense. Forgiveness on student loans whilst teaching is a start; basic pay has to be addressed particularly for those in the early years of the profession. Schools’ culture, respect from politicians and teacher agency are increasingly also drivers in the of retention and recruitment of teachers and school leaders.
More School Places
Academies and free schools will march on, more public money will needless be spent but the level of pressure brought on universities and private schools to be sponsors will be minimal. There will be talk of a specialist Maths School in every city but how many actually open is likely to be rather small, unless there is a designation of current schools and a bit of money to help share best practice. Changing legislation on the opening of more grammar schools will lead to an outcry from the profession, Tory rebels, a Lord’s revolt and a bloody nose for the government; it would probably be wiser to avoid the bloody nose, a Commons defeat and more whispers about listening to the party. Probably better to blame your previous advisers and drop the whole thing.
The Best of the Rest
In what is likely to be a pretty slimmed down Queen’s Speech I hope we hear something about mental health specialists in schools rather than training teachers to do another job they are not best qualified to do. Reviewing support for children in need is a good thing; doing something about it would be an even better thing.
If unhappy about funding, curriculum, structural changes or retention and recruitment it is a good time to scream and shout. When you’re clinging on my your leadership finger nails the last thing you want is an unhappy, vocal electorate and education is on the agenda.