Conservative Education Manifesto

Over the last three days the three major English parties have launched their manifesto’s for the forthcoming General Election.  As a teacher I’m obviously particularly interested in what they have to say about education – particularly in the secondary sector I work in.  I thought I would try and give the salient points as I see them…

Firstly the Conservative’s offering (and the one most likely to be put into effect based on current opinion polls!)

The Tories are adamant they want to see the re-introduction of grammar schools

“We will lift the ban on the establishment of selective schools…. Contrary to what some people allege, official research shows that slightly more children from ordinary working class families attend selective schools as a percentage of the school intake compared to non-selective schools”

What is their definition of ‘working class’?  The measure used to close the gap by OfSTED is ‘Disadvantaged’ and there is a clear definition of what ‘disadvantaged’ means in this context.  No mention of the proportion of disadvantaged children in selective against non-selective – perchance because selective schools have significantly LESS than non-selective?

“While the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils stands at 25% across the country, at selective schools it falls to almost zero”

Maybe because there are so few poor pupils?  First they talk about working class then poor.  What happens to the (vast majority) or poor and disadvantaged pupils who DON’T get a place in a selective school?

No matter how the Conservatives spin this, the evidence base really isn’t there to point to grammar schools being the silver bullet.

“To maintain progress as children go through secondary school, we will improve schools’ accountability at key stage 3”

Oh no does this mean a return to KS3 SATs and yet MORE teaching to a high stakes test?  (High stakes for the school that is).

“We will expect 75% of pupils to have been entered for the EBacc combination of GCSEs by the end of the next parliament, with 90% of pupils studying this combination of academic GCSEs by 2025”

Essentially the EBacc is a vehicle for the government to control and narrow the curriculum.  Despite them saying they are untying the hands of schools, the EBacc actually a vehicle for controlling and forcing schools down a very specific and very narrow curriculum which takes no consideration of the specifics of an area or a school.  Of course OfSTED will police this on the governments behalf putting a school in a category if it fails to meet this target.

“We will continue to provide bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching.  To help new teachers remain in the profession, we will offer forgiveness on student loan repayments while they are teaching”

Great – especially for new teachers – provided they do not restrict it to specific subjects.  However, in common with the other parties, there is no real mention of how they will tackle the growing number of experienced teachers leaving the profession early.  This incredibly valuable (and trained at great cost) asset appears to be forgotten by all three major parties.

“… we will bear down on unnecessary paperwork and the burden of Ofsted inspections.”

That would be great but what actually does it mean?  How are you going to life the “burden of Ofsted inspections”??

On Fairer Funding…

Apparently the Conservatives “have begun to correct this”.  Errr no – you’ve actually made it worse by essentially forcing real term cuts on ALL schools and produced a mickey mouse consultation of fairer funding which has scared the hell out of your backbench MPs.

“We appreciate that it is hard for schools receiving a higher level of funding to make cuts in order to pay for increases elsewhere, so while we will make funding fairer over the course of the parliament, we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula.  We will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022, representing more than a real terms increase for every year of the parliament.”

Now this really is a little bit sneaky.  It sounds wonderful until you realise that the money going into education HAS to increase by £3 billion to cover the extra 500,000 children who will be in the system by 2022.  In effect it is £1 billion in extra spending.  That billion is actually being moved from one pot to another as we shall see in a minute.  Paul Daniels has nothing on this.

“We will continue to protect the Pupil Premium to support those who need it”

Remember ‘protect’ is a euphemism for NOT INCREASE IN LINE WITH INFLATION.  In effect pupil premium payments will be cut in real terms.

“In order to fund these commitments, we have taken an important decision.  We do not believe that giving school lunches to all children free of charge for the first three years of primary school – regardless of the income of their parents – is a sensible use of public money.  There is now good evidence that school breakfasts are at least as effective in helping children to make progress in school.  So … schools in England will offer a free school breakfast to every child in every year of primary school … The savings made from this change will be added to the core schools budget, meaning that every penny saved will go towards children’s education.”

To be fair this is probably true.  There is no evidence base to support the school dinners but there is to support the theory that breakfast can make a difference.  Of course breakfasts are a lot cheaper than dinners – but how cheap will the government expect and hence how nutritious and beneficial will these breakfasts be?  What about the primary schools which have had to invest in kitchens to provide all these meals and staff to make and supervise the meals now these meals will no longer be paid for by the state?  (Free school meals for those who are eligible will still continue).   This is thought to save £600 million.  Add on the £3 billion that would need to be spent anyway (as described above) because of increasing pupil numbers this leaves only an extra £400 million which the government needs to find over the life of the parliament.  Most of this money is expected to come from efficiency savings at the DfE and streamlining the student loans administration.  The small bit of extra is to come from a levy on sugary drinks.  All of a sudden the governments claim to be investing £4 billion extra into schools over the parliament doesn’t sound so generous and is just what it is – a juggling of money that is already in the system.

One disappointing omission is any reference to funding at post 16.  FE colleges and sixth form schools have been hammered by slashing of funding for post 16 education (this money has NOT been ‘protected’).  No mention of this.

Ofsted is mentioned fleetingly with the merest hint of any sort of review of its practice (nothing of any benefit to hard pressed teachers will actually happen – it will just get worse with expectations around EBacc and the hint at a greater focus on KS3.  Grammar schools and the withdrawal of school meals for infants will pull the headlines.  All in all a very disappointing offering which does nothing of any note to address the real concerns teachers and schools have around curriculum design, funding and work-load.  Certainly not an education manifesto that would make me want to vote Conservative on June 8th.

You can download the full manifesto here.

 

 

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Mr Chadburn

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