General Election: Education must be central

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be.” Barack Obama

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, on the Today programme (23 May 2024) proudly announced that the UK has the best readers in Europe, and this is why the Conservative government can claim education is a success story.

We do have outstanding schools in all parts of the UK. We live in the sixth richest economy in the world, but we have 4.3 million children living in poverty. 400,000 children have no beds of their own; 2.1 million people are using food banks, and Victorian diseases like malnutrition are returning.

We need the next government after 4 July 2024 to focus on growing the economy and start to end poverty. This will be of enormous help to schools.

Schools and school leaders are critical for securing a successful future for young people. We need a national debate of all stakeholders to determine the purpose of education. Once the purpose is agreed, we can start to look at all aspects of schooling.

Curriculum, accountability, qualifications, parental engagement and student leadership are all important areas to explore. To achieve better attendance and behaviour, we need schools to be places that challenge and engage children and young people.

We need a highly qualified teacher workforce – there is a teacher shortage and not just in the usual subjects. The system needs exceptional leaders – we are losing too many headteachers through burn-out. All stakeholders need to be involved in developing a workforce plan that ensures teaching is seen as a valued profession and includes flexible working hours.

Beyond Mainfestos

In England, we have a mixed structure of schooling – multi-academy trusts, single academies and community schools. There must be an evaluation of the system with clear recommendations for future developments. New funding arrangements need to be agreed. Funding and support for children with SEND must be agreed. Parents should not have to fight relentlessly for support for their child.

How can we ensure local accountability? Is there a role for regional directors? Do we have the right governance structure? Can there be improved links between schools and CAHMs, particularly around mental health? Are children and young people at the heart of our system?

These are just a few of the questions that we need answers for. Whoever is in government after 4 July 2024 needs to have the confidence to reach out across all parties to come up with solutions.

Rab Butler’s 1944 Education Act was supported cross-party, and its provisions lasted until Ken Baker’s 1988 Education Act. The next Education Act needs to be as significant as these two seminal acts.

We need an education system that prepares young people, whatever their ability or context, to leave school fully equipped to lead fulfilled and purposeful lives.

At SSAT we want a government that fights for deep social justice for all children and young people.

Beyond Manifestos

We have always sought to champion the wisdom within the education system. This publication offers a range of informed opinions from headteachers, leading academics and other friends of SSAT on what the system needs next.

With a general election on the horizon, there will be interesting debates about what manifestos should prioritise.

Join the debate now.


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