Election Day

Ballot box 'is key to democracy'

Here we go again!

This week the nation goes to the polls once again to vote for our local representatives in parliament. It has been a tense, confusing and frustrating period since the last election, with Brexit dominating the political scene and frequent turmoil in the House of Commons.

Schools and teachers have a responsibility to remain politically neutral – especially during an election season. This is right and proper. We serve a diverse community which includes the full spectrum of political views. Our role is to educate children and young people so that they can make informed choices about their vote when they are old enough to exercise that right. We aim to give our students the critical skills to be able to see through “fake news” and false claims made on any side of the argument, to get to the facts and the verifiable sources which provide reliable, objective information. In the current world of rapidly evolving social media stories, this can be a challenging task – but it is a vital one if our democracy is going to survive and flourish in the future.

Further than that, we must then educate our young people so they know what to do with the facts, once they have disentangled them from the noise of opinion online. What are the implications of the parties’ policies for their lives? What are the implications for their futures? What sort of society do they want to live in? What values do they hold, and who do they want to represent those values in parliament?

School funding

School Funding

Education funding was a major issue in the last election

One issue that it is my duty to highlight – as you might expect! – is education policy. I hope that parents and members of the Academy community take education into account when casting their votes on Thursday. In the last election, which was only in May 2017, school funding was a significant issue – as I highlighted in my blog post at the time. All of the major parties have included pledges to raise school funding in their manifestos this time, which is certainly welcome – but, as I indicated above, the facts behind the claims are always worth exploring. Websites such as the School Cuts site show what the implications of the different parties’ manifestos would be for the funding of individual schools across the country, including Churchill. Above all, I hope that whichever government is elected works with the education profession, trusting schools and school leaders to make the right evidence-informed decisions in the interests of all children and young people.

Casting your vote

ballot-vote

I have voted in every election since I was old enough to do so. I take the responsibility of casting my vote very seriously – I always read the manifestos (especially the education sections!) and research my local candidates. I want to make the most informed decision possible, and I vote not only in my interest but in the interest of all the students and teachers I am responsible for at Churchill. We are very lucky to live in a democracy where we have a free choice to make for our local representatives. I will be watching with interest on Thursday and into Friday as the results roll in, to try and see what the future holds…until the next election!

Election Education Issues

Ballot box 'is key to democracy'

As I am sure you know, the Prime Minister has called a General Election on 8th June. As with any General Election, there will be many issues which will be at stake when the nation votes. I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware of the major education issues of the moment, and their impact on Churchill Academy & Sixth Form. My hope is that you will ask the candidates about these issues, find out where the different parties stand on them, and use what you find out to help you when you decide where to place your “X” on June 8th.

Issue 1: school funding

School Funding

This is the major issue facing schools – including Churchill – at the moment. Schools have been on a “flat cash” funding arrangement for several years. This means that the amount of funding we receive has remained exactly the same with no prospect of any increase. However, from this “flat cash” we have been required to pay out more as cost pressures continue to rise. For example:

  • Pay rises and rising costs due to inflation have been unfunded.
  • Employer contribution on teachers’ pensions rose 2.38% from September 2015 – this has been unfunded.
  • Main band National Insurance employer contributions increased in April 2016 by 3.4% – this has been unfunded.
  • A fund called the Education Support Grant (ESG) which Churchill received as part of academy funding dropped from £140 to £87 per pupil initially, and has now been removed completely.

In simple terms, we have to pay more out but we aren’t getting any more in. The government has repeatedly said that education funding is at record levels, but the only reason they can say this is because there are more pupils in the system; the per pupil amount has not gone up. The government has also consulted on a new National Funding Formula for schools. Churchill actually stands to benefit from that formula if it is introduced as planned next year, but not all schools will do so as the amount of money in this system overall will remain the same. We have also been successful in securing grant funding for new buildings. Whilst that funding is welcome – and necessary – it is ring-fenced to the bricks and mortar and does not supplement our educational costs. Overall, the current situation equates to an 8% real-terms cut in the schools budget by 2020.

The impact of “flat cash” coming in with increased cost pressures means that schools up and down the country have less money to spend on education. Less money means fewer teachers which means class sizes get bigger. Larger classes mean less time available for individual pupil support. Less money means fewer opportunities for young people to engage in enrichment activities or educational visits. And less money means reducing the amount of support that can be given to individual students who need it such as those with special educational needs, behavioural issues, low prior attainment or those requiring support for mental health problems. In fact, the Education Select Committee published a report just this week which said “financial pressures are restricting the provision of mental health services in schools and colleges. The next Government must review the effect of the budget reductions in the education sector.”

This is the hard truth of education funding at the moment. We have continued to work very hard to provide the outstanding education that we know your children are entitled to, but without additional funding that will be difficult to sustain. Please make sure that the candidates for election on June 8th hear the message that proper funding for schools is your priority too.

Questions to ask your local candidates on school funding:

  1. Spending on schools may be at record levels, but that is because we have more children of school age than ever before and costs are rising. How will you ensure that school budgets are protected in real terms for the duration of the next parliament?
  2. The nation’s children should be provided with a broad curriculum, great support and enriching activities. Is your party willing to fund schools properly so our children have the same opportunities as previous generations?
  3. The Education Select Committee noted that half of all cases of mental illness in adult life start before the age of 15, and that one in 10 children aged between five and 16 have had a diagnosed mental disorder. What will your party do to ensure that mental health services for young people are properly funded and able to cope with demand?

Issue 2: evidence-based policy

evidence

One of the frustrations of teachers and school leaders is the tendency for government to make policy for education without a firm or robust evidence base. Sometimes, it seems as if their policy decisions are based more on personal experience than on research of what actually works in schools. Therefore, as a minimum, we would ask that any future government provide a clear basis of evidence for any proposals, hold transparent consultation before any policy decisions are finalised, and establish, at the outset, evaluation models that ensure that any proposals will benefit young people from disadvantaged as well as advantaged backgrounds.

The current government’s proposals to allow the the creation of new grammar schools, or Labour’s proposal to provide free school meals for all primary school children, fail this test. There is no evidence that either of these things will help improve the standards of education in Britain. The creation of more grammar schools, along
with, inevitably, hundreds – possibly thousands – of secondary modern schools, will be hugely damaging to the nation’s children. A second class education for the many, particularly, but not exclusively, for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, is not just educationally unacceptable but morally and economically disastrous.

The current Conservative Government has held a consultation on new grammar schools but refuses to publish the results. Yet the evidence is overwhelming: selection damages the quality of education a nation’s children receives. What we must demand is a high quality education for every child, not selection and privilege for the few. What will make a difference is creating the conditions to ensure that high quality teaching and learning takes place in every classroom in the country, by ensuring a supply of great teachers into a properly funded school system.

Questions to ask your local candidates on evidence-based policy:

  1. What evidence is there that the education policies in your manifesto will make a positive difference to all children, both advantaged and disadvantaged?
  2. New grammar schools mean new secondary moderns. What is your position on creating new grammar schools for the few and, as a result, new secondary moderns for the many?

Issue 3: teacher recruitment and retention

We are very fortunate at Churchill to have a full staffing complement of highly-qualified, expert teachers. However, nationally the teaching profession is facing a significant staffing shortfall: too few graduates are training to be teachers, and too many qualified teachers are leaving the profession.  It is therefore vital that all political parties pledge to celebrate teaching as a great career and improve incentives to encourage more graduates into the profession, by improving career development support and opportunities for teachers in order to retain more great teachers in the profession.

Questions to ask your local candidate: teacher recruitment and retention

  1. Great teachers are at the heart of a great school. What is your party going to do to make teaching a more attractive career to our best graduates?
  2. The current government has missed the targets for teacher recruitment for the past four years. What are you going to do to ensure your party would hit the teacher recruitment targets in the future?

Conclusion: use your vote!

ballot-vote

I recognise that we serve a diverse community which will include the full range of political views. It is not my intention, nor is it my place, to influence your vote. What I hope I have done is lay out the key issues in this election which impact on Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and schools across the country, so that you can ask well-informed questions and make your own decisions based on the answers you receive.

The final thing that I would say, however, is that we are incredibly fortunate to live in a democracy where every citizen has the right to help choose representatives to govern us in parliament. I would urge every member of our school community who is eligible to vote to register by 22nd May and to exercise their democratic right and responsibility to vote on June 8th.

Thank you.

With thanks to the ASCL 2017 Election Manifesto, and the HTRT Doorstep Manifesto, for materials used in this blog.  

Update: 19th May

Now that the political parties have published their manifestos, the SSAT (Schools, Students and Teachers’ Network) has collated their education policies into a side-by-side comparison document – read the comparison here: SSAT Guide to the 2017 Manifestos and Education Policy