It’s caused a crisis in our schools, but the government has no plans to fix it

OPINION: NEU warns teachers are leaving the profession

Thursday, 7th July — By

TUC demo - Members of Camden NEU

With schools struggling to get by and teachers leaving the  profession, GERALD CLARK, the secretary of the Camden branch of the NEU, explains in a personal opinion piece why he read the new education Bill now going through parliament with dismay

THE government’s latest education White Paper, now making its way through parliament as the Education Bill, is called “Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child”.

I’ll save you reading the 60-odd pages. It offers very little other than to suggest that all schools should be part of Multi-Academy Trusts.

The issues in schols are issues that this same government has created. Now things have got worse and our education system is in crisis.

Camden’s very good schools are operating on their very last budgetary reserves. Despite our best efforts we cannot go on for ever like this.

What we know our schools need is a lot more money and a lot more teachers.

More money in schools would reduce workload which would have a massive impact on our ability to retain good teachers. Real-terms pay increases for teachers would have a massive impact on our ability to recruit good teachers.

Despite this, the only mention of funding in the whole White Paper is that “we will invest £2.6billion in high needs capital investment over the next three years to deliver new places and improve existing provision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or those requiring alternative provision”.

It’s not clear whether that’s new money or money already committed or moved from another funding source.

This would be welcome, but the number of pupils with SEND in England has increased every consecutive year since 2017.

These numbers have hugely grown in Camden over the last two years. Two years in which the government’s own policies have isolated these children at home and blocked their access to any support.

This £2.6bn nationally might not scratch the surface.

The White Paper makes tutoring part of the core provision and commits further funds to a National Tutoring Programme.

This just betrays that actually the government thinks that exam grades are all that counts.
It doesn’t help secure the basics of learning, doesn’t help at primary or in lower secondary years.

We believe that education should be holistic, not just about jumping through hoops.
Tutoring shouldn’t be necessary if schools are able to do their job properly, but they’re not because this government’s policies have widened the attainment gap of pupils between pupils from less-advantaged families and more-advantaged families. There is no recognition of this.

We need a white paper that commits to funding improvements for our schools, that has a serious proposal to address the crisis of recruitment and retention of our staff.

We need to find a way to share good practice, not just within Multi-Academy Trusts, but with other authorities and other schools, we need to open up education ­– not just within MATs.

The only nod to our curriculum in the White Paper is creating a bank of lessons and resources that teachers can use.

This is an offensively simple suggestion – given the levels of workload in our schools.

But the real cause of workload is Ofsted-driven accountability.

Far from addressing this in the correct way, the white paper believes that “Ofsted’s new inspection framework has driven leaders and teachers to focus on the intent, implementation and impact of their curriculum.”

Our experience is that Ofsted’s new inspection framework has driven leaders and teachers to leave the profession.

There is what appears to be a substantial commitment with money for schools to buy musical instruments and support games.

That’s very welcome, but league tables prioritise schools that follow Michael Gove’s English Baccalaureate, which doesn’t include any of these subjects.

Yes, we need more children learning a love of music and playing sport, but if the government was serious they’d scrap the English Baccalaureate and make these things a central pillar of a broad and balanced curriculum, not just extracurricular.

We have great community schools in Camden, supported by a strong local authority that recently received some of the strongest praise ever from Ofsted for the quality of their children’s services.

We know how to run great schools. So our message to the government is that proposals for change in education are needed.

But the real issues need to be acknowledged.

The issues that it caused. And to enable us to continue delivering to Camden children:

  • A broad and balanced curriculum suited to the children we teach and their aspirations
  • Good pathways with consistent assessment systems that are fair and enable all children to attain equally
  •  Support for schools to be able to employ enough staff to deliver these
  •  Sufficient development opportunities – and pay – for teachers and support staff to enable them to stay in schools for their entire careers
  • More pastoral support for our pupils, trauma-informed practice and SEND support so that we can recognise their journey as human beings, support and nurture them.

These should be the priorities for school leaders, the authority, governors and the community.

We would welcome working with anyone that shares this perspective. We can do a lot to create great Camden schools. But we’ve already done most of that.

Now we need the government to help us by understanding what their key priorities should be.

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