It was a long time ago that the key issues in an election, in Tony Blair’s famous words, were “education, education, education”. This time round education did not feature in the leaders’ debate and it is definitely a side issue so far. The Conservatives seek to wow us with the idea of converting 3,500 more schools to be academies and extra tests for 11 year olds. Labour has quietly put forward an important boost to vocational education. But the spending commitment
of all three parties so far represents a 10% cut to education funding in terms of real per-pupil spend.
My colleague Fiona MIllar this week provided an excellent summary
of the range of alternative education manifestos. These provide a focus on reform to Ofsted and on more collaboration, rather than the Coalition's emphasis on competition. But she also emphasises that "trust in teachers and workload issues have risen up the political agenda".
In June 97 education was seen
as the 2nd most important issue by voters, just behind the NHS (even taking 1st place in July 1997, just after the election). In polls in 2015
it ranks sixth, after NHS, immigration, the economy, unemployment and poverty. But there are 450,000 teachers and around one million voters in total that work in schools in England (and, of course, millions of parents of school-age children).
Who will provide a new vision for our schools?
For those staff, and teachers especially, I think Fiona is spot on. The key issues are surely workload and trust. Teachers and headteachers alike feel under continual pressure, with continuous change from central government, fear of Ofsted, and a climate of distrust.
There is an opportunity here. There is a an opportunity for a politician to paint a picture of a very different educational culture. Instead of a focus on structure, this could be a focus on collaboration for the common good; on respect and trust for teachers; on schools as creative places where children enjoy learning; on the potential of wider skills and abilities for young people; on an inspection approach based on peer-appraisal and support; on less paperwork and reporting and a reasonable workload.
There are hints of this in the Labour manifesto
, that gives Labour a real opportunity to paint an inspiring picture of a break from the past. I would love to see Tristram Hunt or Ed Miliband get together with some of the headteachers (at the Headteachers Round Table or elsewhere) who are showing how schools can be different, and give an alternative vision that could inspire teachers, school staff and parents.
Could schools be great workplaces?
At the recent conference on happy productive schools, we were given exactly that kind of inspiring picture, from headteachers who were creating schools based on trust. Sir Alasdair MacDonald, ex head of Morpeth School, talked about a focus on supporting and celebrating success, rather than rooting out failure. Tom Sherrington, headteacher of Highbury Grove, talked about moving beyond lesson grading and creating professional dialogue based on respect.
Chris Holmwood, senior deputy headteacher at Shenley Brook End, spoke about "a culture of joy and enthusiasm in the learning of others. A school can be happy and effective, it can be creative and rigorous.” Tim Brighouse talked about moving away from the Ofsted culture of fear and replacing it with an inspection approach based on peer review. For the full article in Schools Week, click here
Those attending were left feeling there is another way, that schools can be great places to work in. Let's hope that thoughts like these become part of the campaign.
One million voters: The IFS details
that there are 450,000 teachers and 240,000 teaching assistants, meaning 690,000 people working in classrooms in England. I would suggest support staff (admin, caretakers, cleaners, dinner ladies etc) would add at least another 300,000. This does not include schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where education policy is decided by the devolved governments.