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Schools ‘sidelined’ in favour of ‘populist talk’ – Whiteman

Schools have been “sidelined” in favour of “populist talk on immigration, polarised positions on trans rights and removing the right to protest”, a headteachers’ union leader has warned.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, told its annual conference that all politicians must “raise your game out of the gutter of smears, misdirection, and the creation of division to simply win a vote”.

His comments come amid a disastrous set of local election results for the Conservatives, who have already lost over 170 council seats and with around a third of races still to be called.

Whiteman told delegates that “for the best part of fifteen years now, schools have been treated as though they’re a sideline, a niche portfolio to be considered once all populist talk on immigration, polarised positions on trans rights, and removing the right to protest have been exhausted”. 

“Oh and let’s not forget the right to strike. The effect of such neglect on our schools has been pernicious.

“If political parties think the electorate haven’t noticed, or simply don’t care, I strongly suspect they’re all going to have a nasty shock during the election campaign.”

Whiteman appealed to all politicians to “raise your game out of the gutter of smears, misdirection, and the creation of division to simply win a vote.

“Instead have vision and put a compelling proposition to the country. Don’t simply be less bad than the others.”

Education needs ‘transformative’ NHS-style vision

The conference is being held in Newport, South Wales, and Whiteman paid tribute to Welsh Labour politician Nye Bevan, who spearheaded the creation of the National Health Service.

The NHS was a “transformative vison for a health service that even after 70 years we value more and more each day”.

“Where is the modern politician that will have a similar level of ambition for the nation’s children and young people? Who will create an education system that the whole country will value in the same way as the NHS?

“Who will promise an education settlement that goes beyond talking big, and delivers great things for the future of the nation?”

He said if education secretary Gillian Keegan “comes up short”, “will it be Bridget [Phillipson] that can persuade her party of the case and satisfy the country’s need?”

“Whoever it is we will be undeterred because educators care in their heart. We’re going to keep banging the drum and making the case for education. NAHT, fiercely political neutral but we won’t hold back on our expectations or calling it out when political leaders are wrong.”

‘Education is not a drain on the public purse’

He said the prospect of a general election “brings with it new opportunities”.

“And my message to the electorate is to demand radically ambitious plans for education.

“It’s not a drain on the public purse but an essential and urgent investment in the nation’s future. If you’re serious about building a better future, then you need to start with schools, where futures are created.”

Schools are “some of this country’s most successful institutions, and that’s largely due to the talent, determination and hard work of our members and their staff, so why not build on this?

“Why not aim to make our schools the very best in the world? It needn’t be a pipe dream.”

Motion to explore ‘legal and industrial’ routes on Ofsted

The NAHT conference will tomorrow debate an emergency motion on Ofsted, calling on the union to “explore all campaign, legal and industrial routes to secure necessary changes to inspection to safeguard leaders’ lives”.

Whiteman acknowledged the “positive change in tone and open attitude for change” displayed since Sir Martyn Oliver became chief inspector in January. Oliver will address the conference tomorrow.

But Whiteman said the government’s recent response to the education select committee, which rejected calls to scrap single-phrase judgments, “has left a chill in the air”.

He added: “Their complete failure to really address the damage being done is reckless. Martyn, we cannot blame you for the recklessness of government. But we need more actions to accompany your words too, and fast.”

He said the accountability system in its current form “resembles a diseased root which creates further havoc across the school ecosystem”.

“Over time we can create a system that will guarantee quality and support continuous improvement but not damage school leaders and their teams.

“But relief is needed immediately. The nation cannot afford to continue to haemorrhage experienced teachers and leaders.”

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