We’re into the final fortnight of the General Election campaign, and still education remains in the background. This is preposterous considering its importance and how many of us it affects.
Over the past week we’ve read and summarised the election manifestos for their education content, and have discovered some significant differences as well as some very similar rhetoric.
All of the political parties talk about
- Standards in education
- High expectations
- The global economic race
- Early Years funding
- A financial commitment to education that effectively maintains the status quo with regard to funding (with the exception of the Green Party)
- A Royal College of Teaching
- Need for better vocational education
- Narrowing the gap between economically disadvantaged children and those more financially secure
Each party discusses PSHE and SRE with varying degrees of support for the statutory status of PSHE – with the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party pledging to make PSHE a compulsory subject.
Although there’s mention of wellbeing, particularly within the Green Party and the Labour manifesto, it still remains secondary to “standards”.
Too frequently, the manifestos talk of the economic reason for “raising the standard”, giving the very strong impression that children are a mere commodity in the global market place or a live asset on an educational playing field.
Our chief concern now is not what the manifestos have said but what they haven’t said – omissions that are detrimental to the future of an education system that’s fit for the 21st century.
What, for instance, do the political parties have to say about
- Ofsted – Fit for purpose, in need of abolition, or in need of a complete reinvention?
- League tables – Abolish? Review the point of them?
- High-stake exams, the increase in poor mental health for young people, and the connection between the two?
- Whether the SPAG and phonics tests for Primary children are to remain?
- Commitment to abolishing GCSEs – something which isn’t in the Labour manifesto but has been suggested by Tristram Hunt on the campaign trail?
- A real commitment to wellbeing and the need to develop all of a child’s intelligences?
- Recognition of the fact that children mature at different times – that a Level 3a in English at KS2 (or at any age) doesn’t make a child illiterate, and the detrimental effect upon young people who are deemed to be failures at the age of 11?
- The importance of creativity within and through the curriculum?
- Outdoor play and learning – and an encouragement for schools to use their own local environment more frequently?
- International evidence for raising the school starting age to 7 (with the exception of the Green Party)?
- Their commitment to new ways of learning through the technological advancements of the last decade?
- How the teacher workload is going to be managed so that dedicated professionals can get on with doing what they do best – enabling youngsters to learn?
- How and when are we going to give proper autonomy back to educators?
This list could continue.
Too often, the child is forgotten. This is not acceptable. Neither is the neglect of teachers’ wellbeing.
There are some promising pledges in some of these manifestos, but there’s also too many of the same old prescriptions, nostrums and slogans.
Education is working for some but by no means for all, and whoever forms the next government in May (or June) will have some important decisions to make. Despite the ridiculous amount of change that young people and teachers have endured over the past two decades, the status quo isn’t viable either.
Who is going to be brave enough to say that and then work with educators to reinvent our education system to meet the needs of all children and young people, which has to be the main point of any education policy?