What education questions to ask political canvassers

Forget 24-hour news, the internet and Twitter: parliamentary candidates will still go canvassing before May 7. Be prepared and seize the chance to grill them on education policy

The General Election campaign proper doesn’t begin until the end of this month. But that hasn’t stopped the parties vying with each other to offer tasty titbits of policy – some even funded! – to get the teacher vote. It used to be solidly Labour, but teachers are now more discriminating than ever. They’ve been offered:

– Protection of the education budget at present levels, but no increase for inflation (that is, up to a 20 per cent cut over the life of the next parliament) nor for the rapidly growing number of new students joining our schools.

– A cut in annual university fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000 without any assessment of the effect this will have on the quality of the higher education offer.

– Talented leaders and talented middle leaders’ programmes for struggling schools, but no suggestion that the scale of these programmes will be adequate for need.

– Open-ended commitments to adequately fund resources for children with mental health problems.

– A continuation of the free school programme, in either its present form or as rebranded “parental promoted” developments; but not a systematic government programme to increase SIGNIFICANTLY the number of primary places throughout the country.

Parties are already offering tasty titbits of policy to get the teacher vote

The day has passed when voters trooped off to the local market square or Drill Hall (I remember both!) to attend “hustings”. Before the era of 24-hour tv news and the internet, we decided on our vote after listening to as many hour-long political pitches as we could stand. But door-to door canvassing still goes on extensively, as does phone polling. Candidates and their teams offer themselves up to you for your own scrutiny. Seize the moment, whether on the doorstep or on the phone. This is your chance to grill them.

So here are ten questions to put to potential MPs, when they knock at your door or phone you to ask for your vote on May 7.

1. What will your party be doing to help train and prepare school leaders — especially primary heads — to have difficult conversations about performance and pay with their staff?

2. What training will it give to school leaders and governors to avoid equal pay claims in the new performance-related salary regime that they must employ?

3. In a world where schools no longer have the security of local authority tendering and commissioning services, what help will your party give to ensure schools are able to commission services that work, are legal, and give good value for money?

4. Given the Department for Education’s poor record in allocating contracts and holding contractors to account, who will help schools in this vital activity?

5. Given the elitist, pure ability focus of Russell Group universities, the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Fund, what will your party do to narrow the gap into higher education?

6. How will you help schools, especially ones in difficulties, ensure that they get an academy sponsor (or multi-academy trust) that will actually HELP them to improve as they wish.

7. What will your party do to give schools the POWER to access the mental health services and support mechanisms that they so obviously need for their students?

8. Given that all parties are committed to giving parents a choice of school at 4 and 11, what will yours do to remove the unfairness that at present stops too many people getting the school of their choice?

9. How will schools, especially primary, be able to live without levels or a consistent GCSE grading system?

10. What will your party do to improve teachers’ quality of working life?

Bruce Liddington is an education consultant specialising in academies and free schools

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