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Roland Martin - Issue #54


Roland Martin

June 5 · Issue #54 · View online

Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

#ge2017 or General Election Week

Avoiding politics - or trying to...
In my position it’s not appropriate to be party-political and I try hard not to be, even if sometimes that proves to be difficult. I do, however, consider part of my role to be to provide some sort of moral guidance to young people and always have done; sometimes that may lead to the need to pass comment on morality/immorality in a wider political context. But possibly the only thing I would make an outright statement on, in terms of UK Elections, is that children should be brought up to believe that they should vote as soon as they are able.
Of course, every election has consequences for Education, and obviously it is such an emotive subject for voters, joined at the hip with Health. Both regrettably tend to be footballs in the middle of the pitch every time an election is called, whether snap or otherwise. The Education ball gets kicked around, swift change is made to distinguish the next lot from the previous lot, a new Secretary of State is appointed (we have had five in ten years - and are likely to get number six regardless of which party gets elected - none of whom have been in post long enough to deliver a ‘five year plan’, if indeed Secretaries of State think in such terms!) and in general, young people and the teaching profession suffer as a result.
Since its inception four years ago, The Society of Heads Futures Group, which I am fortunate to Chair, has been trying to get some momentum behind the idea that if Education could be separated at least six degrees, if not a few more, then progress could be made. That is, if there was an independent body (working like The Bank of England) answerable to but not controlled by Government, then there would be some chance of a continuity of vision for the education of young people in this country. In short, there could be a ten to twenty year plan implemented rather than a four to six year plan hurriedly rushed into place. We would make real progress if this were the case and be the global pioneers that many, from across the world, seem to think we are.
Anyway, dreaming aside, let’s have a look at what the election manifestos might bring to our schools …
Money, money, money...
Obviously, funding has been one of the key points of debate.
Labour was quick off the mark to pledge to inject over £25bn into a ‘national education service’ in England. Its election manifesto also says it will scrap tuition fees in England, reintroduce maintenance allowances and extend free childcare to 30 hours for all two-year-olds.  Labour also pledges to limit class sizes to 30 pupils and to bring in free school meals for all primary pupils, using money raised by removing VAT exemption on fee-paying schools. (I think they might have reached this idea via Mr Gove, an old friend of this Blog’s. The Independent Schools Council - ISC - gives a thorough overview of the contributions that independent schools make here).
The manifesto also states that no money would be ‘wasted on inefficient free schools’, while dismissing grammar schools as a ‘Conservative vanity project’. 
School counselling would be extended at a cost of £90m. Free lifelong education in the further education sector is also pledged, and funding for 16- to 18-year-olds would be brought in line with funding for younger pupils.
The Liberal Democrats - pitching their election manifesto at a younger demographic, to win back core voters alienated by their support for an increase in tuition fees - are promising less than a quarter of the investment that Labour are offering: an extra £7bn in England’s school budgets to tackle ‘an unprecedented funding crisis.’  The party has also vowed to provide free school meals for all English primary schools. The Lib Dems plan to reintroduce maintenance grants for the poorest students, but there is no commitment to abolishing tuition fees. The party also promises 15 hours of free childcare for all two-year-olds. 
Conservative Theresa May says schools will receive a more modest £4bn funding boost to reverse planned budget cuts as part of a manifesto which will see a real-terms increase to school budgets by 2022. The investment will be paid for by axing the flagship universal free school meals for infants policy. The scheme, which costs around £600m a year, will be replaced with provision of a free breakfast for every child - which is set to cost around £60m a year. The manifesto also states that private schools must sponsor an academy or set up a free school or face losing their charitable status. 
The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed each of the main political parties’ proposals for education spending, calculating that the Conservative Party manifesto could see school budgets cut by 7%, Labour’s plans would mean an increase in school spending per pupil by 6%, and Liberal Democrat plans would protect spending per pupil in real terms at the 2017-18 level. 
Policy, policy, policy
For an interesting take on where one stands, policy wise, this linked ‘quiz’ is worth a look … it is limited, for example, the education policy for one party is certainly missing a big point, but it’s still interesting to see the outcome, your leanings broken down.
Unsurprisingly, The Great British Grammar Debate has joined funding in a strong supporting role. One of the most bizarre articles suggested that the PM was not hugely concerned with evidence (something quite important in schools!) given her alleged comments at a fete in Maidenhead. 
The jury remains out as to whether Grammar Schools will do what it is suggested that they will: bring about social change. Baroness Andrews was particularly eloquent on this topic back in October. Prof Alice Sullivan challenged the Conservative party’s statement that selective schools have proportionately more pupils from ‘ordinary working class families’ than non-selective schools. She says families in the bottom third for income have been excluded from the calculation supporting this data. The party argues that increasing the number of grammar schools will improve social mobility as more poor bright children will be taught by them. However, Prof Sullivan, Professor of Sociology at University College London, said the main reason grammar schools are an ‘unlikely tool for promoting social mobility’ is that working class children are far less likely than wealthier children to attend them.
Along with a pledge to ensure budgets and the pupil premium for disadvantaged children would rise to protect them against rising costs, the Lib Dems would scrap the planned expansion of grammar schools and give local authorities ‘clear responsibility for local school places planning’. 
Labour hasn’t sat on the proverbial fence on this issue, with Angela Rayner referring to the Grammar scheme as a ‘vanity project’.
Trying to be objective, it is difficult to see that any of the manifestos bring much optimism for teachers, parents or children at a time when morale in the profession is at a considerable low, whether that be amongst teachers or school leaders and at a time when children need the support of their teachers and their schools - whatever schools they may be - more than ever. 
The optimist in me hopes that the good people - doing their very best to support children in schools - get the support and encouragement that they need to persist in so-doing, whatever policies may or may not be implemented in the future.
Whomsoever next gets the role as Secretary of State for Education, please cherish the role, value teachers and put children first…
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