What are the key priorities for primary teachers and leaders?

With now under a week to go until the General Election, I read with interest the outcome of the National Foundation for Educational Research’s recent Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey1 where they asked teachers and leaders which education issues were most important to them in the lead up to the election. Looking at the top three priorities for those working within primary schools, 82% of respondents considered school funding to be the most important education priority, followed by a desire for reform of the accountability system (60%). A close third was sufficient support and resources for pupils with SEND, with 52% of primary leaders and teachers identifying this as a priority.

With this snapshot echoed by teacher and leader voices both from within our SSAT primary network and wider afield, how do the manifestos from the main different political parties aim to address the key priorities for those practitioners working with our pupils in our schools now?

Funding

Within the different party manifestos, there has been some commitments regarding funding for schools. The Conservatives have committed to protecting ‘day-to-day’ school spending in real terms per pupil2 and whilst Labour have pledged funding in a range of priorities, including 6,500 extra teachers, breakfast clubs, teacher training and mental health support3, their manifesto makes no reference to core school funding. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have committed to increasing school funding per pupil above the rate of inflation every year4.
There is no surprise that school funding is so important for teachers and leaders ahead of July 4. A report from the Education Policy Institute earlier this year, highlighted how the current, already challenging financial situation in schools, could become more difficult with the total number of pupils in state-funded primary and secondary schools projected to fall by over 400,000 by 2028. Should the next government keep per pupil funding constant in real terms, this would lead to a £3.5 billion real-terms cut in total school spending by 20285. This would undoubtedly hit Primary schools the hardest. What schools need is assurance that this money will be reinvested back into schools. Whether this will happen, or whether the ‘savings’ will be diverted elsewhere, is not currently clear.

Ofsted

Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have pledged to end the use of single-word grading judgements, with Labour indicating they will introduce a new report card system through their reform of Ofsted inspections. Such promises to reform the current accountability system will be welcome by school leaders and teachers, with much speculation about what in fact that would mean in practice. Other commitments by Labour include the introduction of inspections of Multi-Academy Trusts and annual reviews of safeguarding, attendance and off-rolling. It is less clear what changes, if any, the Conservatives will make to accountability measures for schools, with the only reference in their manifesto to Ofsted being they will commit to supporting Ofsted in providing ‘clear judgements to parents on the quality and safety of schools’.

SEND

Earlier this month, Head of SEND at SSAT, Pauline Holbrook, reflected on the rising SEND figures and her recommendations on what the incoming Government needs to prioritise to meet the needs of every child. Latest data from the Department for Education6 shows the number of pupils with SEND has increased by around 300,000 in the past five years, to over 1.6 million pupils, with the biggest increase seen within our primary schools. This, along with costs rising more quickly than general inflation7, it is understandable that primary school leaders and teachers are looking for the government to commit to radical and substantial changes ahead of the election.

Within the Conservative manifesto, the party have pledged to deliver 60,000 more school places with a further 15 new free schools for children with SEND, which was previously announced back in the spring. They have also included a commitment to create a register of children not in school, which is echoed by the Liberal Democrats, who have a number of SEND pledges within their manifesto. The party plans on ‘tackling the crisis in special educational needs provision’ by ending the postcode lottery and giving local authorities extra funding to reduce the amount schools currently pay towards the cost of pupils’ EHC plans as well as setting a new to establish a national body for children with very high needs. Labour has committed to taking a community-wide approach to SEND support, improving inclusivity within both mainstream and specialist settings, as well as ensuring school admissions decisions account for the needs of communities and require all schools to cooperate with their local authority on school admissions, SEND inclusion and place planning. Do these pledges go far enough? It is clear that the current system is not working and needs substantial review and investment in order to make the change needed.

Last week, Teacher Tapp published the results from their poll of 11,000 leaders and teachers on their views of the policies for education within the different party manifestos8. Of all key education policy proposed, primary teachers and leaders agreed that the Labour and Liberal Democrats plan for Ofsted reform was ranked highest, followed by the Conservatives SEND proposals to open new free schools and create 60,000 places for children with special educational needs and disabilities, which was ranked second for primary teachers and third for senior leaders. Clearly these areas, highlighted back in March by the NFER survey, remain key issues and whether the proposals set out in the different manifestos go far enough to tackle the problems to make improvements for pupils, teachers, leaders and schools will be seen in the coming months after July 4.

What are your thoughts about the key proposals within the party manifestos? What would be top of your priority list? What’s missing? Share your thoughts – laura.burton@ssatuk.co.uk.

  1. Polling of teachers ahead of General Election NFER 2024
  2. The Conservative and Unionist Party Manifesto 2024
  3. Change Labour Party Manifesto 2024
  4. For a Fair Deal – Liberal Democrats Manifesto 2024
  5. School funding model: Effect of falling school rolls EPI 2024
  6. Special Educational Needs in England DfE 2024
  7. The uncertain course for school and college funding over the next parliament IFS 2024
  8. Education policies: ranked by teachers Teacher Tapp 2024

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