Even the most politically averse of readers won’t have failed to notice the political party conferences that took place in October. The events are designed to enable the different groups to outline their manifestos and plans for the coming years, and unsurprisingly education was a hot topic. But what did the conferences reveal and what will the future hold for supply teachers, schools, academies and trusts across the UK?
Mobile phone ban in schools
One of the current government’s main plans outlined at its conference in Manchester was a proposal to back headteachers in banning mobile phones in schools. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said, “One of the biggest issues facing children and teachers is grappling with the impact of smartphones in our schools. The distraction, the disruption, the bullying – we know that teachers are struggling with their impact and we know that they need support so we’re recognising the amazing work that many schools have done in banning mobile phones, and we’re announcing that we will change guidance so that all schools follow their lead.”
While this policy would be welcomed by many teachers and schools, some commentators have suggested that it would not solve underlying behaviour issues. Unions also expressed disappointment that this was the main piece of guidance for schools to come out of the conference, saying that there are more pressing issues to deal with.
Access to education
A separate discussion was led by Keegan and the Centre for Independent Justice at a fringe debate at the conference which focused on school absences and wider access to education services. The think tank revealed that around 1.7 million children are absent on a regular basis and called for the government to make long-term decisions and create funding to help the third sector enable all children to fully access education.
The Prime Minister announced plans to introduce a Baccalaureate-style replacement for A-levels and T-levels. The plan will not come into effect until children who are currently starting primary school leave formal education, but it would enable all 16-19-year-olds to study five subjects, including English and Maths. Sunak said that “more teachers would be recruited” to deliver the programme of change, however, it remains to be seen how existing hiring would be scaled up. As readers will know, the education sector is already at its limit, with multiple schools struggling to hire the skills they need to operate. If this plan is delivered it’s highly likely that the valuable skills of supply specialists will be needed to an even greater extent than they already are.
Maths gets a boost
At the Labour Party conference, hosted in Liverpool, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson announced the ‘Early Years Plan’ which aims to modernise and increase eligibility for free childcare, along with a range of other schemes. These included initiatives to boost the speech and language skills of young people, and to improve the teaching of maths. According to Phillipson, the programme will set children up with basic, practical maths skills to help them ‘achieve at secondary school, at work and throughout life’. It is based on the idea of upskilling primary school teachers who are not maths teachers with the right skills and knowledge to deliver high-class maths teaching through the Teacher Training Entitlement, paid for through Labour’s plans to end private schools’ tax breaks. The proposal also aims to bring maths to life and will show children how numeracy is used in the world around them through lessons in budgeting, currency exchange rates and sports league tables, amongst others.
Education to prepare for work
In other news announced at the conference, Phillipson also revealed plans to create ‘Skills England’, a programme designed to bring together central and local government, businesses, training providers and unions to identify skills and labour needs, drive training opportunities and ensure that skills policy is aligned with the wider needs of the economy. This initiative would align with the aforementioned maths plan by creating a closer link between what’s taught in classrooms and what is experienced in the real world. The proposals would also lead into further education and would see the creation of ‘Technical Excellence Colleges’. It will be interesting to see how these plans develop and how education resourcing is balanced in future discussions.
Fixing education disparities
At a broader level, a large part of the Labour Party conference focused on fixing disparities within the UK and ensuring more people had access to all levels of education. While the government spoke about the removal of ‘unnecessary’ degree-level courses, many Labour politicians discussed the importance of improving all children’s ability to reach higher education, whether that be university or other options. They also spoke widely on the role of boosting net zero education in light of the climate crisis.
While many of the discussions from both parties will require significant development in order to be implementable, it’s encouraging to see proposals put forward that have the potential to boost education as a whole across the UK. As always, we will remain focused on delivering the best possible services to all of the teachers, schools, academies and trusts that we work with regardless of the results of upcoming elections.
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