News & Insights 15 November 2019

How party manifestos can deliver fairer education this December

As the election fast approaches, it’s unlikely education is going to be at the top of the list on manifestos or necessarily a priority in voting decisions. Yet, as Nelson Mandela so famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So many other issues dominate the debate in this election. But failing to invest in and prioritise education not only damages the potential of individuals, but damages wider society too. We all stand to benefit from a strong, holistic education system, which in turn fuels employment, a strong workforce and a strong economy.

I’ve been chatting to the Action Tutoring team about what they think the next government should prioritise for education. Our staff spend a huge amount of time in schools up and down the country, they hear first hand from teachers and pupils on a regular basis and see all too often the challenges that both face. Here are a few highlights of what we, at Action Tutoring, would love to see in the parties’ manifestos and from the next government:

Increase funding for all schools and protect the Pupil Premium

No doubt this is the most obvious place to start! We see daily how hard teachers are working with stretched resources, but there’s no doubt that money helps and schools have been ever squeezed over the last few years. Schools should have the budget to ensure there is a safe, warm, comfortable place for excellent teaching and learning to happen. We’d love to see not only an increase in funding for schools, but in particular protection for Pupil Premium funding, with schools sufficiently well resourced so that the Pupil Premium really can be used to support those it’s intended for and not just to plug other gaps in the system.

Early intervention to close the attainment gap

Although Action Tutoring works with children in Year 5 and above, we’d advocate to see early intervention made more of a priority by the next government. We know that the disadvantage gap has already opened up before children even start school and that high-quality early intervention can make a big difference to a child’s learning and attainment down the line. Yet the full allowance of 30 free hours of childcare is only available if parents work at least 16 hours per week and is not yet universal. Surely an easy way to make a difference here would be to open up the 30 hours of nursery provision, regardless of whether parents are working or not, to make sure children facing disadvantage are not left behind.

Further commitment to reducing teacher workload

Here at Action Tutoring we hugely admire the teachers in our partner schools. They work so hard to make a difference for their pupils. Yet, we see how stretched they are in so many directions and the toll that their workload takes. There has been much said recently about reducing teacher workload and it’s something the current Education Secretary has expressed a commitment to continuing to work on. We want to see this priority reinforced, so that teachers can focus on the real reason that most come into the profession: to make a difference to children and young people. We think a reduction in workload would make a big difference to teacher recruitment and retention too, another pressing issue in education.

I want the government to commit to increasing budgets to allow for additional funding for CPD for teachers. So many training opportunities don’t exist anymore and CPD for teachers is at the worst I’ve ever seen it in my career. Quality-first teaching makes the biggest difference to all learners – that’s what the government commitment should be.”

– Assistant Headteacher at an Action Tutoring partner school, Brighton

Invest in pupils’ wider wellbeing

Since Action Tutoring started in 2012, we’ve seen a significant increase in concerns raised by both teachers and volunteers about pupils’ mental health and wider wellbeing, with teachers now warning that pupils’ mental health is at a crisis point. We think this is an issue the next government cannot afford to ignore, with greater investment needed in CAMHS to ensure shorter waiting times for referrals, plus better support for teachers to deal with these issues. Teachers can’t do everything and we would advocate for more services, such as each school having an in-house counsellor to support pupils’ wellbeing.

The next government must recognise the importance of investing in our youngest citizens. This will only be achieved through investment in the provision of outstanding outcomes for pupils that include their mental health and wellbeing alongside their academic standards. Schools need to be fully inclusive, including with the expectation of zero exclusions, funded adequately to be able to educate all mainstream pupils with sufficient additional SEN [Special Educational Needs] provision across the country. Education ministers need to value more the excellent work of Ofsted and all the staff who work across the teaching profession.”

– Headteacher at Action Tutoring partner school, South London

Post-16 opportunities

Post-16 education isn’t Action Tutoring’s main focus, but we certainly hear a lot about it from teachers and charity friends working in the post-16 space. Further Education has been poorly funded in recent years, with many considering it at crisis point. The current government pledged an additional £400m but reports say this still leaves colleges 7% down on their 2010 figures: clearly more is needed if this is an area the UK wants to take seriously. And we absolutely think it should: young people leaving secondary school are at a critical point in their lives and the right qualifications and support can set them up to flourish personally and contribute to society.

It’s not all about what happens post 16 though; careers support varies hugely from school to school and is often not introduced until late into the pupil’s school journey. We would love to see a commitment to a qualified, well-trained careers advisor in each school working with pupils right from Year 7.

Support evidence-based practice

There is now some fantastic evidence available about which practices and interventions are most effective in schools and how disadvantaged pupils can best be supported. But this evidence-based approach needs to be more widely adopted and shared. The EEF have made great strides in that, but we want to see a commitment from the government to facilitate schools to form networks, share the most effective evidence-based approaches and learn from those schools experiencing success in tackling disadvantage.

Keep pupils at the heart of decision making
Our final message would be this: keep pupils at the heart of decision making, not results. Too often, Ofsted and league tables can incentivise schools to make decisions based on results rather than the experience and development of the individual pupil. Recent stories of schools excluding those pupils predicted to get poor results is an example of this, although thankfully it has already been cracked down on. Each pupil is an individual with huge worth and value, and we want to see that cherished and the best decisions made for them, whatever that might be and without fear of the system.

“Protection of the Pupil Premium funding should ensure that disadvantaged pupils have access to wider opportunities within school and are able to receive the academic care and attention they need to help them become the happiest and healthiest versions of themselves. There’s too many disadvantaged young people who are missing out right now because of school funding cuts. Change is possible, and it needs to happen soon.

– Hannah, Action Tutoring Programme Coordinator in Liverpool

In the UK we are lucky to have a brilliant, free education system that many around the world can only dream of. But it is not yet serving disadvantaged pupils as it could be and there is plenty of room for improvement. The Action Tutoring team’s theme for the year is ‘Doing Good Better’ and we would love to see the next government adopt this in its education policies: commitment to making our education system even better and ensuring that it really does benefit every pupil, from pre-school right through to life-long learning.