Success of society depends on education being a top policy priority

The Fair Education Alliance shares its cross-sector manifesto for a fair education system and argues it needs to be put front and centre at the next general election

The Fair Education Alliance shares its cross-sector manifesto for a fair education system and argues it needs to be put front and centre at the next general election

26 Sep 2023, 9:13

Fair Education Alliance members – over 250 businesses, charities and social enterprises, think tanks, unions, universities and schools – work with children and young people from cradle to career in over half of England’s education settings and in all local authorities. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they are united under a shared vision for what our country needs to prosper.

This is a moment of high stakes for our country: as we approach a general election, we also face a climate crisis, a cost-of-living crisis and threats to global peace. Education is foundational for facing these issues in a meaningful way, as well as widening employment and economic opportunity, reducing crime and improving health outcomes among others.

To deliver a system that rises to this challenge, it’s also critical that we recognise the importance of cooperation from business, civil society and government at national and local levels.

And yet, education is not at the forefront of policy. Only 6 per cent of voters see education as their top priority. Even with schools literally crumbling and the attainment gap at its highest on record, education fails to get prominence.

This must change. We must stop reacting exclusively to today’s crises and set our country up for success tomorrow, and we must help parliamentarians articulate to voters what we stand to gain or lose through education.

To that end, our Fair Education Manifesto calls for urgent action in four areas:

Stabilise the school workforce

This is foundational for any other solution and needs to be addressed through pay, but also through culture, conditions that are more inclusive and competitive, and easing the negative impacts of the accountability system.

Value skills and wellbeing alongside attainment

Our current system isn’t giving young people from all backgrounds the skills employers need, and it’s not giving them a positive experience of school either. However, change will need to be thoughtful and long-term, avoiding an unintentional increase in disadvantage gaps and teacher workload.

Quality early years education for every child

Poorer children are more likely to be behind expected language and other developmental levels when they start school. We must make high-quality early years education and care accessible to every child, so that they are able to build the relationships and skills they’ll draw on for the rest of their lives. We need strategies for increasing supply to poorer communities and building a strong and sustained workforce.

Better funded and joined-up local support for families

Rising child poverty and a lack of investment in the services that support families have led to schools filling gaps left by others. This is not sustainable for anyone. We need better funding for early-intervention children’s services as well as to restore funding to the streams intended to mitigate the impacts of poverty on education. We also need clearer responsibilities, communication channels and shared objectives between agencies.

The education system is suffering from a long-term lack of public investment, driving a wedge between schools serving poorer and wealthier pupils. Teacher and school leader recruitment are at their lowest while attrition is at its highest, and this is more severe in schools serving the poorest communities.

Further, our system is failing to prepare young people, especially disadvantaged young people, to thrive in work and life. Disadvantaged young people are more than twice as likely to not be in education, employment, or training than their wealthier peers. Our education system must help close the employment gap.

Attendance is an ongoing concern, as is a growing mental health crisis, and the schools serving those in greatest need are plugging the gaps. Things cannot continue like this. We need to learn from the principles of place-based change and enable greater long-term collaboration between the services and organisations supporting families, as well as sufficient funding to meet local need.

Change isn’t a fantasy. It will require unprecedented collaboration across schools, the third sector, business and government. The Fair Education Alliance is united behind these goals, and we will be working hard to ensure they are at the very top of the public’s – and politicians’ – concerns.

The Fair Education Manifesto launches today. You can read it here: https://www.faireducation.org.uk/fair-education-manifesto

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