In the face of Brexit and a Trump Presidency, our communities face a period of crisis and uncertainty. We therefore must continue to focus attention on supporting and improving school’s here in the UK so that our young people are as well-equipped as possible to adapt to this rapidly changing world.
Aside from the distracting nonsense of Grammar Schools, the Government is pursuing ambitious reforms to the national schools’ funding formula. The second stage of their consultation was published on 14th December and, having campaigned for such reforms for several years, there are many aspects that I welcome. However there are also concerns surrounding the potential 8% real-term cuts that are being imposed nationally by 2019-20.
With all this in mind, school funding is likely to become the focus of debate in education, but, I believe, that we may end up further overlooking a far more important issue that is currently driving our education system into crisis: the understaffing of UK schools.
The government has repeatedly denied reports of teacher shortages, pointing to growth in teacher recruitment, and to increases in the number of recruits with 1st class degrees. Opponents point to high drop-out rates and increases in the number of substitute teachers.
I would suggest that such discussions ignore the most obvious measure: the number of pupils per qualified teacher; a metric that is difficult to find in national statistics.
After recruitment and departures, a review of DoE data shows that the number of qualified teachers in state schools in England has increased by 3% since 2010. However the number of pupils has increased by 6%; raising the number of pupils per teacher by 2%.
2% does not sound like a massive deterioration. However, data from the Worldbank (focussed on Primary schools) should raise concerns, with the UK’s pupils per teacher ratio of 17.4 (in 2014) comparing poorly with many countries and, in fact, the average for all OECD member countries (15.7).
In education, a single metric comparison with other countries is undoubtedly limited. However it is clearly evident that increasing the number of teachers per pupil would bring significant benefits to our children.
Effective education depends on high quality teachers having time to invest in their pupils both inside and outside the classroom (see Sutton Trust EEF Toolkit and sort by ‘Impact’). Living with a teacher, I know the hours of time that go into the planning and feedback required to be an excellent teacher. If we really want to improve our school system then we need to provide teachers, and pupils, with this time. The only way that will be possible is through ambitious recruitment targets that help reduce workload. Michael Gove and his successors have, disappointingly, delivered the opposite to this.
Governments have repeatedly imposed targets on schools. I believe that our Party should instead set the government targets to reduce pupil/qualified teacher ratios which would improve the support that every child receives and help reduce the excessive workload which is driving teachers out of the profession every year. Once the success criteria are made clear, the financial decisions can be made and justified.
* Jame Dalzell is a Cambridge based member and activist and will be taking up the role of Membership Development Officer for the city from January 2016. He will fight the King's Hedges County Council division in Cambridgeshire in May 2017