Friday 26 May 2017

Headteachers' review of the education policies of the three main parties

Ahead of tonight's Education Question Time at 6.30pm tonight at Queens Park Community School it is worth reading the National Association of Headteachers review of the three main parties education policies. It is a great pity that they do not consider the Green Party's views.

New reports comparing the general election manifestos from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Education Policy Institute are published today. 

Commenting on these reports, Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT said:
Education continues to be an important issue for voters in this election. Anyone with the best interests of children and young people at heart will be glad to see that all the major parties have devoted space to education in their manifestos. 

There are clear differences in policy and priority for the parties, so there’s plenty for parents, teachers and school leaders to think about. Older pupils, who may be voting for the first time, will also have a view.

Thanks to continued pressure by parents and schools, there is now cross-party recognition that school budgets are at breaking point. This is not a moment too soon because our research shows that seven out of ten school leaders believe their budgets will be untenable by the 2019/20 academic year. However, there are elements in all of the manifestos that will leave voters wondering how proposals will be funded and whether they will achieve the benefits to pupils that the parties claim.

NAHT had been focussing on five key priorities which we believe all parties should sign up to:
  • To fund education fully and fairly, reversing the £3bn real terms cuts that schools are facing and providing enough money to make the new national funding formula a success.
  • To put forward a national strategy for teacher recruitment and retention that recognises teachers as high-status professionals and guarantees enough teachers for every school.
  • To adopt fair methods to hold schools to account, recognising that test and exam results are only part of the picture when judging a pupil’s success or a school’s effectiveness.
  • To value a broad range of subjects in the school day so that pupils’ opportunities are not limited and they are properly prepared for adult life.
  • To make sure that schools are supported by health and social care services to allow schools to fulfil their role to promote pupil wellbeing rather than making up for cuts to other services.
So far over 150 parliamentary candidates have signed up including Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Angela Rayner, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, and Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party. Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader has also signed up. To date, no Conservative candidates have signed up. The list of signatories is continually being updated, and can be found here


Mr Hobby said: “Funding is still the number one issue in education, without sufficient cash, schools will always struggle to implement any new or established policies. The rest of the debate about education begins and ends with that fact. It is welcome, for instance, that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proposed to address the current reductions in real terms funding for post-16 education, which have left the 16 to 18 phase relatively underfunded compared to secondary school education. It is time for the whole education system to be given the investment it so desperately needs.”


Mr Hobby said: “Disappointingly, there is not much from any of the parties on how to solve the teacher recruitment crisis. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to abolish the 1 per cent public sector pay cap, which would certainly help, but the Conservatives have not made any commitments to remove the cap, which is likely to cause teacher pay to continue to decline in real and relative terms, making it a less attractive career choice. Guaranteeing enough high quality teachers for every school is a sufficiently complicated and important enough requirement to demand that the government takes overall responsibility for it by implementing a national strategy.”


Mr Hobby said: “Whilst there are some areas of concern, England’s schools are overwhelmingly of a high quality. School leaders have earned the right to fair methods to hold schools to account, recognising that test and exam results are only part of the picture when judging a pupil’s success or a school’s effectiveness. Narrow, high stakes accountability causes activity damage. The Conservatives’ plans to increase accountability at Key Stage 3, demonstrate an unwillingness to build a fair system and will dismay many school leaders. Reducing the target for participation in the English Baccalaureate from 90 per cent to 75 per cent merely proves how arbitrary that target was and we will continue to campaign to see this dropped altogether. 

“Whilst all three parties are pledging to reform assessment in primary schools, Labour have made an explicit commitment to abolish any baseline assessments. As the EPI says, the development of a new baseline assessment does need to be handled with care, but it is disappointing that Labour have ruled out further examination of its possibilities, given its potential to provide a measure of pupil progress over the entire course of primary school. We would urge all three parties to build on the significant impact that our ‘Redressing the Balance’ report has had on the assessment and accountability debate.”

Mental Health

Mr Hobby said: “There is cross-party consensus of the need to make significant changes to children and young people’s mental health services, which is welcome. Although recognition must be given to the increasing contribution that schools are making to support the mental health needs of pupils, there can be no expectation on any school to provide health and social care services funded from the school budget. NAHT does not believe that it is fair for schools to be held to account for mental wellbeing when their efforts are so dependent on the quality and availability of other services that young people need.”

Students with Special Needs

Mr Hobby said: “In terms of the way the education system works for every student, regardless of who they are, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also outlined strategies in their manifestos specifically directed towards the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). With a significant gap in attainment scores for SEND and non-SEND pupils, they risk being left behind. These commitments are therefore welcome. In contrast, the Conservatives have made no reference to the needs of pupils with SEND in their manifesto, which is extremely disappointing.”

Narrowing the Gap

Mr Hobby concluded: “All the main parties state that they want to improve things for pupils who come from less well-off families but their chosen methods are very different. Much has been made of the two most high profile Conservative Party priorities; the end of Universal Infant Free School Meals and the return of selective education. Ending the school meals entitlement for infants after only three years and without a proper evaluation of the project takes a much too short term view of the issue. Almost a million children will be affected, so we believe the entitlement should be retained. It is likely that ending the universal entitlement will reduce economies of scale and further damage school budgets. 

“The plans to offer free breakfasts instead have not been costed properly and do not include additional funding in order to meet upfront costs, increased demand and the need for additional staffing. Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to expand free school meals to all primary students are noble but will only work if funding is sufficient and the all the practicalities of simultaneously feeding a greater number of pupils have been taken into account.

“NAHT does not support any plans to expand grammar schools. As the EPI states in its report today, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are seriously under-represented in grammar schools and additional selective schools have no significant net positive or negative impact on pupil attainment - instead they modestly redistribute educational attainment towards the small number who gain entry to grammar schools and away from the much larger proportion of children who do not. Pupils from black and minority ethnic families are particularly ill served by grammar schools, which cannot be a good thing for social mobility of cohesion.”

You can read our summary of the main parties’ manifestos here

(Note it is a pity the NAHT did not include the radical Green Party policy for education here)

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