2024

Summer policy and advocacy update

9 July 2024

As the dust begins to settle following a momentous election, the education policy landscape is poised for significant change. Disappointingly, education didn’t feature highly in the election debates, but the pledge to recruit 6,500 teachers has already been making headline news over the weekend. We know that Labour has the potential to reshape key parts of our educational system in profound ways. I was fascinated to read this piece by Ed Dorrell at Public First talking not so much about specific policies but about the different mindsets and approaches that a Labour Government could bring to education. Well worth a read!  

We were disappointed that the Labour manifesto didn’t make a specific tutoring commitment (it was however in the Liberal Democrat manifesto); neither was there anything specific on tackling the attainment gap, now at its widest in over a decade. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t plenty in there relevant to our work and to give reason for optimism. 

Teachers, teachers, teachers

“As we all know at Action Tutoring, great teachers are at the bedrock of a strong school system and education for all pupils” – Susannah Hardyman, Action Tutoring founder and CEO

Secretary of State for Education, Bridget Phillipson

With a new look team in place, all eyes in education will be on Bridget Phillipson, the new Education Secretary, to see how Labour’s education pledges manifest in practice. Top of her inbox and making headlines even today is the pledge to recruit 6,500 new teachers. In addition, Catherine McKinnell has been announced as an education minister. At time of writing, her exact remit is yet to be confirmed. We had a great meeting with Catherine in April this year, so we are pleased to continue this relationship.

Otherwise, as we well know at Action Tutoring, great teachers are the bedrock of a strong school system and education for all pupils. We’ve seen first hand in recent years the huge challenges our schools have faced to recruit and retain them. However, there’s been criticism that there has been little detail on how this will be achieved – one to watch. This policy has garnered major support, emerging as the most popular education pledge during the campaign.

The all important early years

This isn’t just about childcare – but the learning and education that is so crucial to children’s development, ensuring gaps don’t open up early on” – Susannah Hardyman, Action Tutoring founder and CEO

Starting even earlier though, we know Labour have a real interest in tackling the issues that can emerge right at the beginning of a child’s life, with a pledge to open an additional 3,300 nurseries by upgrading space in primary schools, to deliver the extension of government-funded hours families are entitled to. This isn’t just about childcare – but the learning and education that is so crucial to children’s development, ensuring gaps don’t open up early on.

You can’t learn if you’re hungry

Children can’t learn or concentrate well if they’re hungry and with child poverty significantly on the rise in the last few years, a key Labour pledge throughout the campaign has been to propose free breakfast clubs in all primary schools. Labour’s manifesto commits to spending £315 million on this initiative by 2028-29, although details of the implementation model remain unclear. Here at Action Tutoring, we’re excited about the possibility of linking our early morning tutoring programmes more closely with breakfast clubs, something we’ll be exploring over the coming months.

It all needs funding…

“We know Labour is coming in fiscally conservative, so it remains to be seen if more will be done to improve the overall state of school funding” – Susannah Hardyman, Action Tutoring founder and CEO

It won’t surprise readers to know that school funding remains a hot topic. Another pressing item in Bridget’s inbox will be whether the teacher pay rise will be fully funded this year and how to address school funding falling in real terms since 2010, plus the fact that the Pupil Premium has not been uprated in line with inflation. 

We know Labour is coming in fiscally conservative, so it remains to be seen if more will be done to improve the overall state of school funding. Disappointingly, school spending ranked just seventh, at 15%, when asking the public about spending preferences for government funding in a survey carried out by Public First. Understandably, a large preference (68%) was given to increasing NHS funding, but this highlights a significant challenge for organisations such as ourselves, who will always remain strong advocates of education investment – not least because a well educated workforce is the future of the economy. 

What about the curriculum?

Other areas to look out for over the coming months include a comprehensive curriculum review, focusing on fostering creativity, digital literacy and communication skills to equip young people with the tools needed for success in life and work, beyond the education system. The curriculum went through major reforms under the last Conservative government, not least the introduction of phonics in reception and KS1, but for many the return to a focus on oracy skills will be welcome.

Mental health – a pressing challenge of our times

Having recognised the critical link between mental health and educational success, in tandem with the mental health crisis that has fallen on pupils following the pandemic, Labour has pledged to employ mental health support staff in every school. This is an initiative which is part of a broader community-wide approach to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), which includes the establishment of accessible drop-in hubs offering community-based mental health support for children and young people. Funding for school mental health services was a major priority among the public during the campaign and it’s hugely popular with teachers too, as shown in this Teacher Tapp poll

And post-school

Finally, what about post-school? There are plans to reform post-16 education with a pledge to guarantee training, apprenticeships, or job support for all 18 to 21-year-olds and create ‘Skills England’ to unite businesses, training providers and government to develop a highly trained workforce. 

What next for Action Tutoring

“Delivery of tutoring programmes is at the heart of what we do; we also have so much to contribute and influence more widely in the education landscape” – Susannah Hardyman, Action Tutoring founder and CEO

Left to right: Sally Burtonshaw from Public First,
Action Tutoring’s Susannah Hardyman,
Sarah Waite from Get Further and
Ed Marsh from Tutor Trust,
attending the Conservative Party Conference
panel in autumn 2023

Advocacy has been a pillar of our strategy since 2022, recognising that while our delivery of tutoring programmes is at the heart of what we do, we have so much to contribute and influence more widely in the education landscape from all we’ve learnt over the last 12 years, to ultimately help us achieve our mission. We know public funding is very tight, but we hope for the next parliament, a commitment to funded tutoring for those from disadvantaged backgrounds could be back on the agenda. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to the following:

  • Taking part in panels at Labour and Liberal Democrat Party conferences in September hosted by the Educational Policy Institute (EPI) and alongside our sector friends Get Further, Tutor Trust and Impetus.
  • Working with Public First on two new reports looking at the lessons learned from the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) and a tutoring policy proposal (‘Tutoring Guarantee’) for the newly-elected Labour Party, with the aim of launching these early in 2025.
  • Re-mapping all of our MP contacts and inviting local MPs to visit tutoring programmes in schools in their constituencies, so we can show them first-hand the difference we make and build up a fresh base of supportive MPs.
  • Working with friends in the sector to engage Ministers, the Education Select Committee and the Department for Education, building relationships with the new teams and ensuring that tutoring doesn’t leave the agenda.
  • Continuing to chair the Fair Education Alliance Tuition Advocacy Group, a network of charities passionate about the potential of tutoring to tackle the attainment gap.

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