North West London
This was Labour’s big idea for education for the last general election, and it has remained Labour’s rallying point through this year. For schools, there is a promise of significantly higher levels of funding. But free schools and grammar schools would see less support, and schools would not be forced to become academies. There would be a bigger role for councils, local accountability, plans for simpler admissions and “joined-up” admissions between schools. The SATs tests at the end of primary school would be put under review, and there are promises for less “teaching to the test”. There would be free meals for all primary pupils and a limit on class sizes. These policies mark a continuing trend away from the approach of Labour in government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which stuck with tests, tables, targets and metrics as a way of measuring progress. Labour invested heavily in schools when in office, and the use of tests and targets was seen as a way of making sure that standards were improving. In opposition, Labour seems now to be closer to the views heard at teachers’ union conferences, with a lack of enthusiasm for academies and what they would see as excessive testing.
Labour promises to set up a “cradle-to-grave” National Education Service
Brexit, the opposition on education must have felt like a cricket team trying to get a game in mid-winter. Labour criticised the announcement of £50 million for more grammar school places as a “vanity project”, and it echoed the head teachers’ and teachers’ warnings over school funding. But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, had few opportunities to take on her opposite number directly. Instead Labour took its own education showcase on tour, in a political roadshow promoting its idea for a National Education Service, taking as its model the free and universal access principles of the National Health Service.
Head teachers struggle with recruiting teachers
This year’s school staffing census showed that the number of teachers had fallen at a time when pupil numbers were continuing to rise. The number of state school teachers in England is at its lowest since 2013. The biggest decline was in secondary schools, where teacher numbers fell by
almost two per cent compared with the previous year. This was despite secondary schools having to cope with the biggest increases in pupil numbers, having to find places for more than 35,000 extra pupils compared with last year. The annual workforce survey also raised concerns about who might fill the gap,
11 REVIEW OF THE YEAR |
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