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A new hope for education – but the sector needs quick wins

Hope. That’s the word that springs to mind when I reflect on the events of last week and the change of government following the general election.

For many school leaders, hope will have felt in short supply over the last 14 years. They have contended with austerity, a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and the continuing harm inflicted by damaging Ofsted inspections.

They have seen real-terms cuts to school funding and the pay of education professionals. The crises in recruitment and retention, the state of school buildings and support for pupils with special educational needs are all spiralling.

School leaders and teachers can be forgiven for feeling downtrodden, and it is little wonder that morale has been at a low ebb. It is testament to their dedication and unwavering belief in the importance of education that schools have kept the show on the road, but it has become increasingly difficult for them to consistently deliver the first-rate education all pupils deserve.

A change of government offers a fresh start, and hope that education, which feels like it has been sidelined over the past decade or so, will be prioritised. Hope that action will be taken to begin to address the crises schools are facing.

NAHT set out the measures we wanted whoever won the election to take in our own education manifesto. While education did not feature in the campaign as much as we would have hoped, I am encouraged by our new education secretary Bridget Phillipson, who has pledged variously to get education ‘back on the agenda’, ‘restore the prestige and status of teaching’ and repair what she sees as a ‘broken relationship between government, schools and families’.

Labour has said it will work in partnership with unions. The party is remembered in the run-up to the 1997 election for Tony Blair’s famous ‘education, education, education’ refrain, and while this is a different era, its 2024 manifesto includes several welcome proposals for schools.

There will be opportunity for some quick wins in the first few months

As well as pledges on teacher recruitment and retention, there are promises to reform school inspection and scrap harmful blunt single-word judgements, create a new strategy to tackle child poverty, offer access to mental health professionals in every school, and review what leaders and teachers see as an overcrowded curriculum.   

There is more besides that needs urgent attention. Manifestos are never the sum total of a party’s actions once it enters government.

For example, we hope the new government will address the growing mismatch between the support needed by pupils with special educational needs and the funding available, which is touched upon in the manifesto

We also hope they will deal with the desperate state of parts of the school estate, which Labour called the previous government out on when in opposition. Capital funding and major refurbishment and rebuilding projects have been halved since 2010, with issues ranging from RAAC to asbestos, and from leaky roofs to broken boilers.

We understand that no new government will be able to fix the crises facing our schools overnight, but we stand ready to work with Labour to offer our expertise and help bring about the improvements that we know the education system so desperately needs.

Underpinning this, a major reset is needed in the relationship between government and the teaching profession. For too long, school leaders have felt that government has made their jobs harder rather than supporting them. That must change.

There will also be an opportunity for some additional quick wins for the new government in the first few months in power, many of which wouldn’t cost a single penny.  

As a politically independent union, where we think the new government needs to go further, we will continue to speak out fairly and suggest solutions. Ultimately, our job remains to hold ministers to account on behalf of our members to help create the world-class education system we all want for children and young people.

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