If you ask politicians, of all parties, to tell you what they really think would improve education – what do they say?
Education is something that affects all of us. We all go through school, 49% of young people go to university, and later on in life as parents we want to ensure that the education our children get is of the best possible quality.
When it comes to education, politics is divided. The Conservatives call for greater autonomy for schools, whereas Labour is more focused on the teaching profession’s involvement in the national curriculum than their Conservative counterparts. But what do they agree on?
With the aim of improving clarity, we recently commissioned Ipsos MORI to survey MPs on what they really thought about education, and where they would invest – given free reign – to help improve schools and higher education in particular. Our findings provide useful insight into what our politicans agree on when it comes to education policy.
The answer very clearly is the quality of the people working in education. 49% of the cross-party MPs interviewed indicated that the number one change they would make to improve schools would be to invest more in school leadership development. 42% cited raising the status of the teaching profession, with 21% opting for raising standards for entry onto teacher training programmes.
What these initiatives all have at their very heart is the people that do the educating; the teaching assistant, teachers, senior leadership teams and head teachers of schools.
This makes comforting reading. Our education system is nothing without the people on the ground. Regardless of whether or not a political party’s intentions are well-meaning, politicians are somewhat removed from the day-to-day realities of what providing a quality education to an increasingly diverse population are all about. It is those who teach from 9am – 3:30pm every day, and then mark work and plan lessons on top of that, who know what their pupils and students need, both academically and pastorally.
It is encouraging to see that a great number of our politicians are dedicated to raising the status of the teaching profession, and of course the College of Teaching has cross party support. In Scandinavian countries, which are often regarded as bastions of education best practice, becoming a teacher is a desirable career option in the same way that becoming a doctor is. It is sad that teachers in the UK are increasingly demoralised with pay freezes and ever-growing workloads; factors which have a knock-on effect on recruiting the best and the brightest to the profession.
Whilst each political party has its own ideas of how to change and improve the education sector, what has been made clear from this research is that there is a movement across the political spectrum towards investing in the people that make up the grass roots of the system.
Yes, if Labour is elected we are likely to see yet another shake-up of the academies and free school system, and if the Conversatives gain a majority then grammar schools may be brought back to life. These have their own implications, but I am confident that the teaching profession and its leadership will, as it has before, adapt accordingly.
The interesting thing, of course, will be to see how many of these promises are fulfilled, and what the realistic implications for the teaching profession are moving forward. From a cynical perspective these might well be pre-election ploys to curry favour and garner votes. Yet I’d prefer to remain optimistic and hope for teachers and schools to gain more of the recognition that they rightly deserve.
The full report on what politicians really think about education is available to view here.
Justin Shaw is Chairman and MD of Communications Management, an education specialist consultancy who tweet as @Education_CM