The policy area of education covers nursery care, the wellbeing of young people, and opportunities for careers just as much as it covers what is taught in a primary school maths lesson. However if we don’t get the classroom right, then the rest has nothing to build from. I cannot be less dramatic about this: the UK is very near a collapse in functional education for our children and young people.
In Surrey we have great schools, in the state sector and also in the independent sector – I have seen many of them in the hustings I have been doing as part of this election campaign. I campaigned with residents to save Green Oak Primary School in Godalming.
But do not think that our excellent schools are immune to the current problems of governmental neglect and mismanagement. Many of you who are parents, or who are still within the education system, will recognise the growing crisis.
Schools have been subject to huge cuts in real terms. The teaching profession has been neglected. Whereas once it was a high status profession teachers are now underpaid, undervalued, undertrained and being forced to do the wrong things.
Education for younger age groups is built around SATS tests. For all age groups school performance is built around snap Oftsed inspections. Teachers and schools are forced to compete with each other for league table placings and funding, breaking any sense of vocation, and breaking morale with it. There is a mental health crisis fuelled by this stress in school age children and within teaching. Children with special needs or behavioural issues are unwelcome within this system; without the resources necessary to help them they are left to flounder and too often to be excluded.
The Lib Dems will abolish SATS. We will abolish Oftsted, league tables and the current model of inspection, moving instead to an inspection regime which is supportive and includes how well our schools meet the social and emotional needs of children as well as their academic attainment.
We will provide an immediate cash injection for schools. This will raise the basic salary for teachers to £30k, bring 20,000 additional teachers into our schools, and we will provide training for them so they are always experts in the subjects they are teaching. We will properly fund provision for children with special educational needs.
This needs to happen. It’s not radical, it’s obvious, and if we do it the UK’s future can be bright. If we don’t do this, Brexit or no Brexit, we simply cannot flourish.