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Our education professionals will be needed to deliver ‘opportunities for all’ in schools

Steve Thomas · 12 May 2022

Aspects of the government’s new Schools Bill and education white paper are welcome but, as ever, the true picture will only emerge in the detail of the legislation that follows, writes Steve Thomas, Prospect’s national secretary for the Education and Children’s Services Group.

Little kids school children pupils students running hurrying to the school building for classes lessons from to the school bus. Welcome back to school. The new academic semester year start

The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the education and needs of millions of children across the country.

The Department of Education admits that by autumn 2021, the average primary school child had lost nearly two months in Maths and one month in Reading – disadvantaged children fared even worse.

The government’s own education catch-up chief, Sir Kevan Collins, abruptly resigned last year when he felt that the government’s education recovery plan ‘did not come close’ to meeting the scale of the challenge.

So, the importance of the new education white paper, ‘Opportunity for All’ and the Schools Bill that was announced in this week’s Queen’s speech, cannot be underestimated.

It is critical that we get this right, or we risk failing a whole generation of children.

Since the launch of the white paper in March, Prospect has been consulting with our approximate 2,000 members working in the education and children’s services on how the proposals might contribute to achieving our shared goal of delivering bright futures for children and success for schools.

Training the workforce

Prospect is broadly supportive of some  of the areas highlighted in the white paper, but that does not mean we are without reservations, or concerns, about certain elements.

For example, we welcome the emphasis on the quality and sufficiency of the teaching workforce and support proposals that will strengthen both initial training and the ongoing post-qualification development of teachers early on in their careers.

More use of evidence-based practice in teacher training will increase rigour and consistency, which has historically been too diverse and fractured, and not rooted deeply enough in a broad and deep understanding of pedagogy.

Data

Prospect particularly welcomes the move towards the greater use of data to tackle and monitor critical areas such as behaviour, exclusion and attendance

However, any data-led approach must ensure that it’s possible for the rapid and effective sharing of this information, and it is essential that local authorities have a professional cadre of staff to interpret and support programmes to action the data.

This requires the sufficient resourcing of local authorities and Multi-Academy Trusts to retain a professional workforce with the necessary data skills to carry out this work and, more broadly, additional obligations.

Academisation & school systems

The white paper makes it clear (“The case for a fully trust-led system”) that it is the government’s preference for schools to be governed by the trust-led system, as opposed to Local Authority maintained schools.

Prospect agrees that a messy and confusing system has developed over the past decade, although we believe this has largely been a result of ideology and selective listening, rather than sound policy that is driven by evidence .

The white paper’s assertion that strong trusts will be solely accountable for school improvement needs, could be particularly problematic for Prospect.

We represent the largest grouping of local authority ‘Soulbury’ members working in education improvement (including school improvement) and we have deep concerns about the impact this change could have on our members’ job security, as well as TUPE rights where there is a change of service provision.

Has the DfE considered who will undertake any duties no longer undertaken by local authorities? In addition, new duties are being placed on local authorities that we believe could be undertaken by ‘Soulbury’ members and other non-teaching education professionals.

Failure to address these issues risks expert and experienced staff leaving the profession at a time when there is a desperate need for them.

Ongoing engagement with DfE

Training, greater use of data and school governance are just three areas of the white paper and Schools Bill that will impact on our members.

It is worth repeating that Prospect broadly welcomes some  aspects of the proposed changes, including those we have repeatedly called for, such as a compulsory register of children not in education.

I have written to the education minister, Robin Walker MP, and he has already responded positively to say he’s looking forward to further engagement with how our members can help to shape the legislative details that will be needed to ensure the success of the proposals.

It is in all our interests that the white paper delivers on its promise of providing opportunities for all children.


Education and children's services

Prospect represents nearly 3,000 professionals in education, children's services, early years, commissioning and children's social care.