Unions comment on Conservative manifesto

The Association of College Leaders and the National Education Union have commented on the Conservative manifesto which has been released ahead of the upcoming general election

Commenting on the education commitments in the Conservative Party manifesto, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The Conservatives’ headline pledge to spend an extra £14 billion on schools is a little misleading as the plan is actually to increase the schools’ budget by £7.1 billion in three years’ time. It isn’t enough to reverse the cuts and the government has already told us that it expects this extra money to pay for the commitment to raise the starting salaries of teachers to £30,000. This will absorb a significant amount of the additional investment. It is a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. We do need to improve teacher salaries in general but this needs dedicated funding.

“It is interesting to see that the Conservatives intend to offer an ‘arts premium’ to secondary schools to fund enriching activities for all pupils. While this is welcome it is slightly galling that it comes after arts subjects have been hammered over the past few years by a combination of cuts to school budgets and school performance measures which prioritise traditional academic over creative subjects. The ‘arts premium’ smacks of a belated and inadequate effort to repair this damage. It is too little too late.

“We are pleased to hear that the Conservatives will back heads and teachers on discipline and we look forward to more details on what this commitment actually means in practice. The manifesto also includes commitments to expand alternative provision and deliver more school places for children with complex special educational needs. These are measures which are certainly needed and we look forward to understanding exactly how they will be delivered.”

Also commenting on the publication of the Conservative manifesto, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“This election is about much more than Brexit. It is about the kind of society we want and what is best for children and young people.

“In addition to the 83% of schools which will still have lower per-pupil funding in 2020 than they did in 2015 in real terms, this Conservative manifesto reveals £340m of further cuts to school budgets in 2023/24.

“There is an absurdly-funded commitment to Physical Education which works out at £2,000 per primary school. Although the Conservatives have not fleshed out the policy, we worry it will result in an additional financial burden on schools. As a mark of what a shoddy piece of work this is, there is a mismatch of £80m between the Conservatives manifesto and their costings document.

“A generation of pupils have missed out on opportunities because of austerity, and for many it has trapped them in poverty. Our recent poll of NEU members revealed that 62% have witnessed an increase in child poverty and its visibility at their school since 2015. Teachers are on the front-line every day and know only too well the realities of austerity. The manifesto shows no serious thought about making sure that government departments work together to end child poverty.

“This manifesto seems very relaxed about the exclusion of young people and has no positive ideas on how to help schools work with families and Local Authorities to prevent or bring down the number of child exclusions. Disruptive behaviour is demoralising for teachers, but they recognise that it’s often about bullying, mental health challenges or difficulties in home lives. We need ‘no excuses’ for poverty and insecure housing, not ‘no excuses’ by Government for teenagers who are scared, cold or tired. We need zero tolerance for cuts to child mental health services and family services rather than zero tolerance for vulnerable children.

“This manifesto entirely ignores the ‘exam factory’ phenomenon within English education, caused by high-stakes tests. ‘Exam factory’ culture is undermining the quality of education in ways which harms children’s well-being and therefore their life chances.

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“A manifesto that actually wanted to help teachers support positive behaviour would include broadening the curriculum, funding specialist services for children at risk of exclusion, and investment in Sure Start and youth services.

“The Conservatives are the only major political party to continue in the deluded belief that Ofsted is a ‘good thing’, in spite of all the evidence that Ofsted is a major cause of the teacher recruitment and retention crisis which is so damaging to the education of so many children and young people. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have called it right when they say that Ofsted is long past its sell by date and should be replaced by an inspection system which supports and improves schools.

“Solving the teacher supply crisis needs more than just a hike in starting pay. Recruitment targets are constantly missed, but resignation rates are constantly growing and are a bigger part of the problem. We need to keep experienced teachers in the profession, which means boosting their pay and cutting their workload. We need to ensure there are enough properly paid and trained support staff as well.

“The Conservatives are intent on continuing the discredited academies and free schools programme. No matter how often they argue otherwise, it is clear from report after report that academies and free schools are no more successful in raising standards than local authority schools. This demonstrates an irresponsibility with taxpayers’ money, all for the sake of propping up a scheme which has failed in its original objectives and has become captive to private profit. It raises serious questions about whose interests the programme is actually in.

“There is a huge choice for education at this election. The NEU is not telling voters who to vote for, but the NEU wants to make sure that every teacher votes and that they use their vote for the future of education.

“There is a vacancy at Number 10. This election is not only about Brexit, as candidates are finding out on the doorstep. Many voters are worried about school funding, homelessness, inequality, climate issues and the lack of opportunities for young people. The public are looking for a programme that is serious about all the big issues facing the UK.

“To the NEU, it is very clear – if you value education, use your vote for education.”

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