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General election 2024: What does it mean for schools?

A general election will be held on Thursday July 4, Rishi Sunak has announced, kick-starting a campaign in which schools policy is expected to be a key flashpoint.

The prime minister said now was the “moment for Britain to choose its future”.

“Earlier today, I spoke with His Majesty the King to request the dissolution of parliament. The King has granted this request and we will have a general election on July 4.”

But that means several important schools policies are likely to be delayed as public bodies enter the purdah period – including the teacher pay deal.

It also means many schools will face disruption as they close to be used as polling stations on the day.

From which schools issues are likely to feature in the election, to who teachers will vote for and what policies do they favour – Schools Week has everything you need to know…

Which school issues most likely to feature?

It means the UK will go to the polls at a time when school leaders are crying out for more funding for their schools, buildings are crumbling and RAAC still blights some settings and as ministers appear to be gearing up for a fresh battle with unions over pay.

Unions re-launched their highly effective School Cuts website last year in anticipation of this year’s election.

In 2017, education became the third biggest issue for voters, behind only Brexit and health. The Conservatives ended up losing their majority.

A poll after the election suggested 750,000 people changed their vote because of concerns about school funding.

But today’s drop in inflation to 2.3 per cent is likely to be seized-upon by ministers as they prepare to respond to the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body.

Gillian Keegan told the STRB earlier this year that teacher pay awards should return to a “more sustainable level” than seen in the last two years.

The Department for Education said it believes there is only headroom in budgets for the next financial year for schools to raise overall spending by 1.2 per cent, or £600 million.

Ministers have previously estimated that each 1 percentage point increase in teacher pay costs about £270 million – meaning the headroom would only allow for a pay rise of around 2 per cent.

Last year’s hard-won pay rise of 6.5 per cent, which ended a dispute with all four education unions and strike action by the National Education Union, was only part-funded, and even then the DfE had to raid its own budgets for the cash.

A July 4 election could also further delay the STRB process. The government usually does not respond to the recommendations until mid or late July, much to the chagrin of unions and leaders, who have to make assumptions on pay when setting their budgets.

Important school policies likely delayed

Given the election, parliament will dissolve on May 30 (Thursday next week). Public bodies will then be subject to purdah rules – meaning they cannot do anything that could have a bearing on matters relevant to the election.

Previously, this has delayed new free school announcements and seen ‘inadequate’ Ofsted reports held back. A date for when purdah starts has not been announced yet.

But there are some pretty important schools decisions due. Education secretary Gillian Keegan had promised government would reveal its teacher pay offer earlier this year, but that is now likely to be delivered late again – and fall to a new government.

The workload reduction taskforce’s final set of recommendations was due to be published in Spring, but will now be in limbo.

The Department for Education is planning an update to its 2019 recruitment and retention strategy, but this will now be on the backburner.

Ofsted is also consulting on changes as part of its Big Listen.

Meanwhile there are several ongoing consultations into new transgender guidance and strengthening protections in unregistered provision that could be delayed. A consultation on minimum service levels in education is also yet to conclude, but Labor has already said it will scrap this should it win power.

Ofsted to publish LA school ‘inadequates’ during purdah

But inspectorate says it will hold back any individual report if needed

How do teachers plan to vote?

The last time Teacher Tapp asked about this, in October, they found 62 per cent of teachers planned to vote Labour. Nine per cent planned to vote Lib Dem and just three per cent Conservatives.

According to the BBC’s national poll tracker, Labour were polling at 44 per cent nationally on May 20, compared to the Conservatives on 23 per cent, Reform on 11 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 10 per cent.

When asked by Teacher Tapp to choose one issue they would prioritise being fixed, nearly half of primary teachers said funding. For secondary teachers, pupil behaviour was the most popular (31 per cent), followed by funding (23 per cent).

What has Labour pledged?

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has made education one of his key “missions”.

A key policy is ending tax breaks for private schools and use some of the money to pay to recruit 6,500 more teachers, although the party has not said how this will be achieved.

The party has also pledged a “national excellence programmme” for school improvement, £210 million to give teachers a right to CPD, reform of Ofsted to scrap single-phrase judgments, free primary breakfast clubs and access to counsellors for all pupils.

Labour also plans to review curriculum and assessment, create new regional school improvement teams and introduce £2,400 retention payments for teachers who complete the two-year early career framework.

You can read about all their pledges in our policy tracker here.

What do teachers think about Labour’s policies?

A Teacher Tapp poll found Labour’s pledges on mental health were most popular among the profession. Open-access mental health hubs in every community came top, with pledges on more mental health professionals in second and third.

Replacing Ofsted grades with a “balanced scorecard” came fourth, and breakfast clubs in every primary came fifth.

The only policy with large disagreement between some teachers was the party’s plan to charge VAT on private school fees.

Meanwhile secondary teachers were much less likely to favour the party’s curriculum review policy.

What will the Tories’ pitch be?

Expect ministers to focus on the Conservatives’ record on education as they seek to cling onto power.

They have already started relentlessly sharing the misleading statement that the proportion of ‘good’ or better schools has risen from 68 per cent to 89 per cent on their watch.

The party will also shout about the country’s strong rankings in the PISA league tables as evidence their reforms over the past 14 years have worked.

Sunak said during today’s speech that the government had “reformed education and our children are now the best readers in the Western world”.

In relation to new policies, that is less clear.

But Sunak will likely speak a lot about his plans for a new “advanced British standard” qualification to replace A-levels and T-levels and make all pupils study English and maths to 18.

What do sector leaders say?

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said “14 years of neglect and underfunding have left education – from early years through to post-16 – in tatters”.

“It is imperative that all political parties address this in their manifestos. Not in vague terms, with piecemeal solutions. But with meaningful proposals about how this situation will be reversed if they form the next government.”

“Our message is: we need a government to invest in education and to invest in our young people. If you value education, vote for education. Let’s give our children the education they deserve.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union, said “all political parties should make it a priority in their manifesto to commit to providing schools and colleges with the funding and staff they require to deliver a great education for all children and young people”.

For too long education has been seen as a drain on current resources, rather than an investment in future success. Over the next few months, all parties and candidates will have the chance to right this wrong and we urge them to grasp that opportunity.”

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