What do the major parties have to offer schools?

13 Apr

Election fever is gripping the nation and no party appears to be sure of winning the next general election.  The time has come, consequently, to review briefly the educational policies of the three major political parties so as to enable all those in the thick of delivering the service have the opportunity reflect on who would be best for education. 

I           Conservative Party

The Conservative Party has 14 objectives, which, in short, are as follows.   It intends to

  1. allow charities, parent and teacher groups, and co-operatives establish academies

– i.e. state-funded schools which are independent of local authority control;

  1. allow existing primary schools to seek academy status;
  • compel schools that are in special measures for more than a year to be taken over by

successful academy providers;

  1. give parents the chance to run schools threatened with closure;
  2. sustain the Pupil Premium, giving more money to schools which teach the poorest

children;

  1. raise and enhance teacher-training entry requirements to ensure that only the best

are operating in our schools;

  • allow state schools to offer the same international examinations as private schools;
  • retain Key Stage 2 tests but make them more rigorous;
  1. make it easier for teachers to use “reasonable force” to deal with violence;
  2. give governors and headteachers power to pay “good” teachers more;
  3. scrap the exclusions appeals process;
  • create 10,000 extra university places and 400,000 work-pairing, apprenticeship, college and training places over two years;
  • give bonuses for early repayment of student loans; and
  • consider forthcoming findings of Browne Review of higher education funding.

II          Labour Party

The Labour Party has 16 “educational objectives. They are as follows.

  1. Increase “frontline” spending on Sure Start, child care, schools and 16-19 learning but at a slower rate than in recent years.
  2. Continue to roll-out academies independent of local authority control.
  • Increase free nursery hours to 15 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds.
  1. Give pupils legal guarantees of a quality education, including extra mathematics and English tuition for all 7-to-11-year-olds who fall behind.
  2. Introduce “licence to practice” for teachers.
  3. Offer £10,000 “golden handcuffs” to attract the best teachers to the most challenging schools.
  • Give parents the power to trigger a ballot on whether to bring in a new leadership team from a proven provider if they are unhappy with their school’s performance.
  • Encourage schools to pool budgets in school chains, allowing stronger schools to raise standards in weaker schools.
  1. Introduce school “report cards” which would rate schools on a range of data, including examination performance, pupil behaviour and parents’ and children’s views of a school.
  2. Continue with the Pupil Premium, forcing local authorities to pass on extra funding to schools teaching the poorest children.
  3. Proscribe any return to the 11+ tests.
  • Give all secondary pupils “Personal Tutors of Studies”.
  • Make sex and relationship education compulsory for all secondary school pupils.
  • Guarantee places in education or training for all 16- and 17-year-olds.
  1. Expand apprenticeships by up to 70,000 annually.
  • Retain tuition fees for higher education but reduce it to £6,000 annually per student and consider Lord Browne’s higher education review.

III        Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats wish-list contains 10 aspirations which are to

  1. replace academies with “Sponsor Managed Schools”, to be run by educational charities and private providers, but under local authority (and not Whitehall) control;
  2. provide £2.5 billion for the Pupil Premium for schools teaching the poorest children;
  • replace the National Curriculum with a Minimum Curriculum Entitlement to allow teachers more flexibility.
  1. create a General Diploma made up of GCSEs, A-Levels and vocational qualifications;
  2. “scale back” Key Stage 2 tests for 11-year-olds;
  3. create an Educational Standards Authority to monitor school standards independent of government;
  • increase apprenticeship numbers and places on university and vocational higher educational courses;
  • scrap the target of 50% of young people attending university;
  1. scrap university tuition fees over six years; and
  2. guarantee special educational needs assessments for all 5-year-olds.

 

With regard to funding, all parties are committed to maintain the current levels of spending. However, there are subtle differences.   The Conservatives have stated that they will safeguard school budgets in cash terms.   Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said that they will raise the funding of schools in line with inflation.   All three parties have implicitly indicated that they will protect the Pupil Premium.

IV        Some Reflections

Both, the Conservatives and Labour are vying with each other to woo the votes of the electorates on education.

Prime Minister Cameron is determined to increase the number of academies and Free Schools to rid institutions of the local authority yoke. In particular, the Conservatives want to open up another 500 Free Schools and convert coasting schools into academies.

Cameron has also given official backing to establish a Royal College of Teaching in an effort to end the profession’s Cinderella’s status.  He is supporting the Claim Your College consortium in its attempt to create a teacher-led royal college (in the same vein in which the medical and legal professionals have done for themselves) with a multi-million pound grant.  The consortium is aiming to raise £11.9 million by 2019 for the college.

The consortium has stressed that any government grant must be awarded on the basis of “fire and forget” – i.e. with no strings attached.  Writing in the Times Educational Supplement on 20 March 2015, Cameron gives assurances that the college will be “fully independent” offering teaching “the sort of leadership that other professionals have enjoyed for decades”.

Meanwhile, Tristam Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, not to be outdone, wants teachers to be licensed or face the sack to meet tough new standards. Hunt wants to revive a plan which the last government abandoned just prior to the 2010 general election, which was to have a scheme where teachers would have their lessons assessed by other teachers in the system to decide whether they should be allowed to continue.  This would be overseen by the new Royal College of Teaching.

Hunt is being advised by Dame Joan McVittie, Head of the formerly failing Woodside High School in Tottenham, North London, which she turned around to make outstanding.    McVittie was reported by The Guardian to have said: “Headteachers have to look at the fact that we are here to provide a good education for the children. The best way to do that is to help teachers develop well. But in some instances, there are occasions where the individual is not suited to teaching and in which case it is then best to move them on.”

Hunt backed McVittie’s sentiments when he told the BBC: “If you are not a motivated teacher, passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom, then you shouldn’t really be in this profession. So if you are not willing to engage in re-licensing to update your skills, then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom.”

In addition, Labour wishes to limit class sizes to 30 in the infant schools, cut university tuition fees to £6,000 per year and insist that all teachers in the maintained sector – whether or not they are LA ones, academies or Free Schools – are qualified.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, also want qualified teachers and an independent body to set a compulsory core school curriculum.

V         Election Fever and Practice in Schools

Meanwhile, schools and academies will wish to apprise pupils of the issues that will affect their future lives following the general elections on 7 May 2015.  However, they have to be careful to tread carefully by not engaging in any illegal practice.

The Times Educational Supplement reported on one school which had arranged hustings to enable pupils grill the local candidates. The local authority officer cross-examined the teacher responsible for organising this event to ensure that the school was impartial and that all the candidates were invited to attend.  In some parts of the country this could be problematic.  For instance in Sedgefield, Tony Blair former stamping ground, 15 candidates are standing for elections.

Lloyd White, a local government officer in Hillingdon, told The Times: “Even if schools are educating people who are not old enough to vote, they may be influencing them for the future or influencing their parents, if they are seen to be partial.”

The Scottish Parliament’s devolution committee published a report in March 2015 which stated that many teachers north of the border were banned from discussing the independence referendum with their pupils in the run-up to the vote on 18 September 2014.  “The restrictions some education authorities placed upon schools were overly restrictive during the purdah period and acted to restrict the ability of 16- and 17-year-olds to discuss the issue in school and, in particular, with their teachers,” according to the report.

Schools need to adopt a commonsense approach and be prepared to defend their practices. As long as staff members are able to demonstrate that they are impartial in what they organise and do, there is nothing wrong in pupils holding and expressing their opinions. This is part of the citizenship education that schools may wish to promote.

Ben Miskell, a citizenship teacher at Bradford School in Sheffield, told the TES that he was organising a hustings event and mock elections. A student would represent each party participating in the general elections.  “A general election is a bit like Christmas,” he remarked. In the 2010 mock hustings and elections, 40% of the students in Bradford School voted for the Conservatives. The local MP, who is the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, will dearly be hoping that the result this time will be different and favourable to his party.

Meanwhile, you may well ask, which party will be best for education?   That, dear reader, is for you to judge and reflect it in the vote you cast on 7 May 2015.

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