A snap election during the summer term is about as welcome as a major football tournament. Both tend to disrupt pupils, who are usually more attentive to football, but become equally intrigued about this politics thing that the adults are banging on about.
Labour has focused on children from the off, with its first party political broadcast set in a classroom, and has rallied for the support of young people via “memes” – or “shareable things on the internet” as us old, uncool people might call them.
For the schools community at large, the election is a pain in other ways. Now that the education secretary is the de facto head of academies, and her disciples – the regional schools commissioners – are the ones with all the power over academy decision-making, it’s not easy when the government dissolves and all those powers are put on hold.
I’ve spoken to a number of academy trust leaders in recent weeks awaiting key decisions that now won’t happen until at least June, by which point it might be too late to start plans for, say, a takeover originally due in September.
Elections are also uncertain times, and that doesn’t help anyone. Budget cuts continue biting, teacher recruitment seems to be getting harder, and there is a palpable fear about the return of grammar schools dominating conversations among headteachers.
No one wants a grammar to watch next door
No one wants a grammar to watch next door. It’s like watching the horror of dog-eat-dog, which happened in many places as schools converted to academy status, all over again. “If we don’t open a grammar, someone else will do it to us,” is all I keep hearing. It is deeply depressing.
At the 2015 election, school leaders were able to use the advance notice of its date to make arguments about what they wanted. The snap nature of this election means manifesto influence is impossible. Labour has already laid out what its education policies are: free school meals for juniors, the return of the education maintenance allowance, a cap on class sizes.
I’m not sure where the Conservative manifesto is at the minute, but my guess would be that it is hiding in a drawer where it will remain until such a time that it looks reasonable to believe it was “suddenly” pulled together by Theresa May after she amazingly woke up and thought “oh my goodness, how strange, I think we should have an election”.
In either case, both pledge cards have sailed. Hence, if the schools community wants to use this election to have any influence on politicians – and it should, as schools are not in a good way – then it is going to have be done on the doorstep. Over the coming weeks, MPs and party campaigners will be doorknocking, leafleting, polling, phoning, and this is your chance to explain what you want.
Here at Schools Week we hear that what drives you crazy is not so much the policies, but the parties’ lack of knowledge about what is happening on the ground in schools. That’s why we are publishing the Headteachers’ Roundtable Doorstep Manifesto. This downloadable guide gives questions to ask of those MPs and would-be MPs when they come calling. It has facts to present. And policies to suggest.
None of us may be able to change national policies, but getting a local MP to commit to fighting on your side will be worth it. And, if nothing else, maybe you will educate a doorknocker – from any party – about the true picture of school life.
As the profile interview of Jonathan Simons reminds us, no government is perfect. Labour had issues when in power. The Coalition was not beloved. I cannot say our readers have embraced May.
But we cannot moan about politicians’ lack of knowledge if we do not at least attempt to educate them. And if we can make exams seem important in the face of major football tournaments, I’m pretty certain the community can make politicians understand why a profession serving 8 million children should be a top priority.