How will the next Government shape education?

On the verge of the election, Julian Stanley reflects on the last five years in education and looks ahead for what the next government may bring

A week today many schools around the country will shut for the day as they open as polling stations in one of the most uncertain General Elections in a generation. Whatever the result, whichever party wins, or coalition of parties that will make up the next government in the coming days and weeks, it is a good time to reflect on the last five years in education. What progress is being made and what remains to be dealt with?

When the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took up office in 2010, the schools budget was not saved from the austerity cuts. The Buildings Schools for the Future Scheme was one of the first budgets to go and in recent years there has been a severe lack of funding for continuing professional development for staff across all phases of their career.

Michael Gove’s flagship policy changes included sweeping curriculum reforms and the roll out of parent-led free schools, which came with new rules to allow unqualified teachers. One of the most controversial policies under the outgoing Parliament has been the forced academisation of failing schools, which emerging analysis shows has not been as effective in raising standards as was hoped. For teachers personally, tougher capability procedures have been a pressing point, particularly for older staff in restructuring settings who may feel they are being unfairly squeezed out. 

A few successes include the introduction of anonymity for teachers in allegations cases until they are found guilty, which, following an education committee review which I contributed to, has saved many teachers unnecessary stress and damage to their reputations. The workload storm has been brewing for several months now with teachers crumbling under unbearable demands and endless paperwork. Nicky Morgan made an effort to address this with her Workload Challenge Survey but the response may make little difference for teachers in their day-to-day lives.

Going forward, the next Parliament must make the profession more attractive. We are entering a critical period where more and more people are quitting and fewer starting on teacher training courses. We’re currently supporting research with the University of Nottingham on behalf of the Department for Education to address the issues in this recruitment and retention crisis.

We here at Teacher Support Network know well how all these challenges and hurdles can manifest into emotional problems and eat away at teachers’ mental and overall wellbeing. So whatever the outcome at the polls, we will be urging the next government to really consider the people powering the education system.

The status of teaching and that of individual teachers urgently needs to be improved. How can this be done? We want education ministers to work with teachers, schools and governors rather than against them. We want the government to make it a statutory requirement for all schools to have a staff wellbeing policy so that the mental and physical health and general wellbeing of staff is not merely an after-thought for employers and managers. It must become an integral part of the school culture that can empower teachers to perform well, strive to be their best and one which supports rather than snubs those for falling behind a little when the stress of marking or preparing for Ofsted gets too much. This will help our teachers feel valued and remain passionate and dedicated to their careers. 

Teachers must be properly trained and supported, for both newly qualified and experienced teachers, so they are adequately prepared for the evolving challenges of the job. Another unsolved issue is the future of Ofsted and regulation. The current framework is too hostile and traumatic for teachers. We would like to see a move towards a more collaborative, peer-review system which involves more feedback so positive changes can be made for the benefit of students and staff.

We've been campaigning for these changes in our Education Manifesto 2015-2020 which we have been busy urging prospective MPs to support. Some of these points require additional funding but the core hinge on a simple shift in the culture within schools and attitudes about teachers that is more positive and fosters partnerships and trust between government at the top and the teaching workforce on the frontline. 

Submitted by Julian Stanley on Thu, 30/04/2015 - 09:00