Monday 29th May 2017
Mike Kane, Shadow Minister for Education and Schools and Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East
It is that time of year again when the topic of conversation on many parents’ lips is whether they have got the school place of their choice, or, in some areas, whether they have got a school place at all. We know the driving force behind the concerns of parents is ensuring that their children are able to gain a place in a good school.
However, the process of gaining a school place has become an increasingly complex and confusing one for parents. We have free schools and academies setting their own admissions criteria, enabling them to engineer an intake, socially or academically. At the same time, we have maintained schools continuing to allocate places according to traditional criteria such as proximity to home, feeder schools or siblings.
This move from allocation to selection is not good for the student body as a whole, neighbouring schools or the communities they are part of. What we need is a process that is both transparent and fair and that we have sufficient good school places in areas where they are needed.
While some schools are allowed to select and others are not, the perceived – and real – differences between schools will only become greater. And it is likely that increasing numbers of parents will be dissatisfied. The only way to really deal with the admission system is to make sure that all schools are good schools, valued by their communities – and this should be our focus.
Accountability should be rigorous without being punitive, it should be routine without being intrusive and – most importantly – it should always lead to improvement. But we should never confuse the need for accountability with a belief that schools should bear all the responsibility for the education of our children.
Success is more likely when a sense of ambition and optimism is reflected from a surrounding community, where there are opportunities and resources. Our schools are strongest and most successful when local people have the power to influence and the opportunity to offer support.
That is why I am worried by the growing trend of academies and free schools operating behind closed doors, often with directors or trustees who are based remotely. And I would like to see that reversed.
But if we are to achieve a universal high quality school system, we need to focus on our most important resource – our teachers.
International OECD data shows teachers in the UK work longer hours, have lower salaries and have fewer opportunities for professional development than their counterparts around the world.
Teachers in the UK are now working more than 48 hours a week, which is significantly more (19 per cent longer) than the average elsewhere, and one in five teachers are working in excess of 60 hours in a typical week.
What is perhaps most concerning is that too many teachers are leaving the profession, with only 48 per cent of UK teachers in the survey reporting more than 10 years of experience – a red flag on our ability to recruit experienced school leaders in the future.
We know that last year 10 per cent of teachers in England left the profession, with one in four new teachers leaving the profession within three years. Headteachers are telling us that teacher supply is one of the biggest barriers to success.
We need to return teaching to a high status profession. We need to invest in good teachers, we need to select from the highest achieving students and we need to ensure training salaries make the profession an appealing choice.
We need to establish an increased entitlement to professional development and we need to introduce an appraisal system that rewards teacher contributions, in and out of the classroom.
But if we are to really raise the status of the profession we also need to review the training pathways into the classroom. There are currently too many routes into teaching, and I would like to see a return to a single university training route, befitting teaching as the profession that it is.
If we recruit the brightest and best, if we then give them academically rigorous training and the respect and autonomy in the workplace that professionals command, then they can really make a difference in our classrooms. That is how we can ensure our education system is world class.