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Having received emails from a number of teachers in Walthamstow asking if I would back the Teach First manifesto to support #FairEducationForAll, it turned into a rather detailed response, so I’m posting it here as I thought it might be of interest.
I am happy to support the Teach First campaign. In the Green Party, we place great emphasis on the power of education to unlock social mobility and improve young people’s prospects. But to do this we must give teachers the support to develop their teaching careers. We also need to give teachers the time and space to learn about their students, to help inspire life-long passions and possible career paths. Our children and teachers have both been let down.
To take each of the Teach First proposals in turn:
Increase school funding, introduce five-year plans and long-term education priorities
We share your concerns about the impact of current education funding cuts. The Government argues that more money is going into schools, but their figures do not take into account increasing pupil numbers and increasing salary and pension costs, which means the amount available per pupil is, in fact, going down. We also believe that teachers are best placed to decide how to educate and that schools benefit by working with other schools in the community and being accountable to Local Education Authorities.
To address this we will:
- Review education funding and redistribute all available money to all schools according to their needs rather than their status. We believe that State-funded schools need sufficient finance to offer the smaller classes and varied curriculum that exist in many private schools to give all pupils, and especially the most vulnerable, the right conditions in which to thrive.
- Remove state subsidy for independent schools (for example through paying for places for children of parents working in Government jobs overseas) and increase the number of state-funded boarding schools for children in these circumstances.
- Tax all private schools as businesses and remove their charitable status, expecting them to pay all relevant taxes such as VAT and Corporation Tax. We will direct all state-sponsored scholarships to Local Authorities and ask private schools to contribute to a national initial teacher training levy.
- Free schools from centrally imposed testing regimes, OFSTED inspections, the rigid national curriculum and league tables. Teachers will be trusted to plan their lessons and assess progress according to the needs of their pupils, not to meet one-size-fits-all measurements that currently cause huge stress to pupils and teachers alike. Formal education will start at 6 years, to allow young children to develop at their own pace. Those under 6 will remain in early years education, with a focus on play-based learning and access to nature. Sweden has hugely benefited from using a similar system.
- Strengthen the link between schools and the communities they serve, by ending academisation and bringing all schools back into the control of democratically elected local authorities, not private companies, and empowering local authorities with the responsibility and accountability for education within their communities.
- Replace OFSTED with a collaborative system of assessing and supporting schools locally, to improve standards and be accountable to the communities in which they serve.
Increase teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 and encourage them to go where the need is greatest
Teachers are undervalued and underpaid, and this needs to be addressed. It is understandable that like everyone else, salary and job satisfaction are factors in teacher retention. I know from speaking to local teachers that many are lured to better paid or less stressful environments where they can focus more on teaching and less on being a social worker, and in some cases have even left teaching altogether.
The Green Party would:
- Ensure teachers and lecturers are paid appropriately, that additional responsibility points properly reflect the extra work involved and that their pay keeps pace with inflation. To that end, we will end the 1% public sector pay cap.
- Oppose performance-related pay in education.
- Provide further financial security through a universal basic income, and a Green New Deal that tackles everything from energy bills to renting.
While this doesn’t explicitly state support for a £30,000 salary, or support for a premium paid to work in disadvantaged schools, I would personally fight for both if elected as an MP. However, while a pay premium sounds attractive given the current challenges, ultimately we want an economy and a social contract that means no community or school is disadvantaged, which should eventually render any pay premium unnecessary.
Invest in developing teachers in the schools that need them most
Green Party policy recognises that good teachers are central to a good education and that we need dedicated, motivated, skilled, energetic, sensitive and well-supported professionals to help our children and young people to achieve their potential.
To achieve this we will:
- Ensure initial teacher training is of top quality, based in or with substantial time in schools, and that all teachers have access to appropriate continuing professional development throughout their careers.
- Ensure that every child is taught by a teacher with Qualified Teacher Status and principals and headteachers of State-funded schools have QTS.
- Work with the teaching unions and professional bodies to reverse the process by which teachers have gradually been deskilled and their professional autonomy eroded, and review pension arrangements and retirement age with them.
- Oppose the allocation of teaching duties to teaching assistants, but work with unions to facilitate opportunities for teaching assistants to retrain as teachers if they wish.
The Green Party believes that to promote equality and protect workers, we need to support the Trade Union Movement and enable it to do what it does best. The Green Party trade union group actively campaigns to empower unions and to defend the right of workers to organise, visit https://www.facebook.com/GreenPartyTradeUnionGroup to find out more.
Support scheme for new headteachers
As with investing in teachers and ensuring they are well supported to continually develop their careers, so must we do the same for headteachers. I fully support the ideas set out in the Teach First manifesto. I believe support networks and mentorship schemes give a great boost to individuals in reaching their potential, regardless of age or background, and headteachers are no different in this regard.
Improve access to mental health support for all school staff
The Green Party recognises that there is much stigma surrounding mental health difficulties, and this adversely affects those experiencing these issues. We also recognise that teaching can involve long hours off-the-clock, and challenging conditions, on relatively low pay. Teaching, like nursing, is being run on goodwill, with Government taking advantage of people who love to teach. However, this goodwill can only stretch so far before it begins to affect mental health.
- Work alongside charities and organisations that work to challenge stigma.
- Encourage mental health awareness training within the education sector.
- Encourage workplace mentorship frameworks in order to support employees experiencing mental health difficulties.
- Seek to improve the conditions and pay as well as the status of this important role.
Tackle career stereotypes in primary schools
As I work in the IT industry, I have witnessed gender imbalance in the workplace first hand. Through my role as a STEM Ambassador and Code Club volunteer, I have always sought to demonstrate that women have played an important role in this field. We should break the stereotypes that tend to form in our early years through social constructs, and reinforce that gender does not determine suitability for any career. We also need to provide opportunities to explore interests that might previously have been considered gender-based. For this reason, I am a big supporter of the “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign to remove gender stereotyping of toys. I believe that this will lead to an increasingly balanced gender mix in a variety of further education subjects, and in turn, careers.
Challenge employers to give 1% of staff time or profits to support disadvantaged schools
As a STEM Ambassador and code club volunteer, I have been an advocate for business leaders and professionals becoming more involved in the education sector. They can provide guidance and insight into their field, offer practical help in the management of schools, as well as work experience opportunities. Industries can do more to support teachers in educating the future workforce. As such, I would push for employers to donate 1% of their staff time or profits to local or disadvantaged schools.
Fair access to schools
Greens believe that education should be the engine of social mobility and can transform lives. However, too often it fails young people who are disadvantaged and vulnerable and reinforces rather than breaks down social divisions.
Central to the Green Party’s education policy is our belief that all young people have a right to receive a high standard of education at their local school, regardless of their background, where they live, their family’s finances or their academic ability. We believe that the current system creates fragmentation, reinforces social and ethnic divisions and lacks democratic accountability, as well as failing to inspire many young people with a love of learning.
To address this we will:
- Develop a system that facilitates and encourages greater integration, based on a truly comprehensive intake and mixed ability teaching, coupled with equitable funding based on need, to extend equality of opportunity. Green Party policy fully supports the inclusion of all young people in mainstream education, except in exceptional cases where this may not be in the best interests of the young person.
- Offer a range of school-leaving qualifications to encourage a broad curriculum, giving equal value to academic, vocational, creative and practical subjects.
- Foster an approach to education that recognises its importance in preparing young people for work, though high quality and fully impartial careers education and advice, stronger links between schools, Further Education providers and local employers, and encouragement for external initiatives that extend young people’s understanding of the whole range of careers options, such as Speakers for Schools.
We must ensure recognition, however, of the fact that education is so much more than work preparation. We want to offer young people an education that will nurture a desire to learn throughout life, and which enriches their lives with positive experiences of, for example, languages, sport and the arts rather than narrowing their vision through an ‘exam factory’ approach. We will do this through a child- and young person-centred approach to learning which builds on and develops the skills and interests of each individual student.
To ensure that financial considerations do not put young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, off from taking up further and higher education we will:
- Reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance in Further Education
- Ensure Apprentices are paid the living wage and offered free or subsidised travel
- Properly fund Further Education institutions, training providers and lifelong learning opportunities, to encourage young people and adults to continue learning, both for practical purposes and for interest and enrichment, throughout their lives.
- Dismantle the Student Loan system, reintroduce maintenance grants and cancel all existing student debt.
Thank you for giving me the chance to outline the Green Party’s position on this important matter.
You may also find a recent blog post of interest: