The news from Brighton that the policy area of teachers and teacher supply is one of the key issues for Labour’s new Shadow Secretary of State for Education is clearly to be welcomed by this blog. Hopefully, Ms Powell and her advisers will be more adept at keeping the subject in the headlines than her predecessor, one of whose best briefing on teacher shortages appeared on the Monday of a Christmas week when all the press had just gone on holiday. As a result, it was entirely wasted.
Clearly, Ms Powell has also been listening to the teacher associations about retention problems. However, she will need to come up with some data on the matter if she is going to convince the government to take the issue seriously, especially as some schools would probably be shedding teachers next year if costs continue to increase faster than income.
I am not sure what labour’s position is about academies and why they singled out free schools for specific mention? Do they include UTCs and studio schools in the group of schools to be curtailed or are they happy with them?
More importantly, who do they really want to manage the oversight of all state-funded schools? Will they retain the un-elected Regional Commissioners, having now as a Party accepted a role for the Police & Crime Commissioners?
The key issue in education is that of governance and whether schools and education policy is decided locally, regionally or nationally. Place planning and the effective use of resources is at the heart of the matter. If individual schools can dictate how many pupils they can take, then local authorities in rural areas face an open expenditure line on home to school transport that they cannot control. The same is true where schools can exclude pupils without having to take a corresponding number of such pupils from other schools. Allowing all nationally funded schools to set their admission criteria also doesn’t help local planning and the efficient use of taxpayer funds. However, that doesn’t matter if parental choice is more important than providing a good school for every pupil. Do the Labour Party want to channel funds to achieve the best outcomes for the largest number of pupils or do they just want to satisfy just the parents concerned that their offspring can attend an excellent school?
I haven’t heard anything about the curriculum and examinations from Labour, so presumably this is a policy work in progress area. I had hoped to hear that Ms Powell would call for fees to be paid for trainee teachers, but perhaps the new shadow Chancellor isn’t up to allowing spending promises from other colleagues around the shadow cabinet table.
I hope that Labour will support the continuation of universal infant free school meals and the Pupil Premium both of which can help with the vital early years of education where closing the gap can make a real difference as I am sure that Ms Powell knows from her former role in the Party during the last government.