by Tim Carroll, Vandyke Upper School headteacher and chairman of the Leighton Buzzard Headteachers’ Group...
You may be reading this as a light relief from the General Election campaign raging around us. If this is the case then I offer my apologies now because I am only going to add to the fevered debate about the choice ahead of us on May 7.
Unless a “big story” has blown up between my writing this and publication, the main issues for argument have been the NHS, the EU and the economy. Unless somebody throws an egg and a candidate throws a punch or a party leader unawares is overheard uttering something quite inappropriate or a Sunday newspaper exposes major wrong-doing or sexual peccadillo, I suggest that these will remain the key talking points.
This would be a pity because schools policy and funding need a full and proper airing too. Three areas in particular demand the attention of voters because the impact on children’s education will be significant if not addressed.
The first is funding. Quite simply, the trajectory of planned budget cuts is not sustainable. Headteachers in Central Beds are unanimous that projected budget deficits are not manageable. Particular pressures come with Sixth Form funding which has been squeezed the hardest and the rising cost of employing staff. Employer pension and National Insurance contributions are increasing steeply. After two years of zero cost of living pay rises, this year’s 1% teacher pay rise and any future staff pay increases are unfunded.
The second major concern is a growing teacher recruitment crisis, especially in key subjects such as Maths and Science. The cost of attracting suitable applicants in core subjects puts added pressure on a school’s wage bill and employer on-costs. This will only worsen as job opportunities improve in other parts of the economy.
Thirdly, proposed changes to assessment, the National Curriculum, GCSE and A-level have been rushed and are ill thought out. They are brewing a storm of upheaval that few believe will improve the quality of education for children.
All parties need to explain their position and be questioned on these key issues because they will affect the lives of children across the country.