Reflections On: Let’s Put Education on the Agenda

When you reflect back over the challenges of the last few years – indeed the last fourteen years – we should be so proud of the incredible job that schools have done in not only improving and maintaining outcomes but supporting the wellbeing of our children and our communities in a myriad of ways.

Education is facing unprecedented challenges

However, we also know how close to crisis our education system is given the key challenges facing our sector at the moment: insufficient funding for schools, a fractured and under-resourced system for students with special educational needs and disabilities, an overstretched system to support increased mental health needs in our children and young people, buildings that are not fit-for-purpose, and student absence rates that is damaging learning. We are also facing a national teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

Why is education not a voter priority for this year’s election?

But education is now eighth on that Ipsos voter priorities list – way behind the NHS, economy and immigration. Ultimately this gives us a clear message – the public do not feel that there is a crisis in education and that they trust our teachers and schools. You have done an amazing job. But whilst it is inarguable that the economy and NHS are central and crucial priorities it is through education that lives are changed, opportunity is unlocked, economies thrive and we can compete in all areas on a world stage.

We all agree that children from richer families enjoy better opportunities at school

In addition, while the majority of our children and young people are achieving and thriving due to the extraordinary work of schools, too many children are not able to access the chances and choices that others have because of poverty, lack of services or other opportunities starting from the youngest children where the attainment gap starts. Polling commissioned from More in Common by the Sutton Trust think tank, shows that the public agrees that access to opportunity is currently unequal. 62% of those polled said children from richer families enjoy better opportunities in schools and 81% thought it the government’s role to ensure fair access to educational opportunities.

Our system is creaking!

of the public agree that opportunity for children is unequal
of the public think it the government’s role to ensure fair access to educational opportunities

Post-election, any government must focus on education

We must hope that whilst the election does not place education as a high priority in the way that the 1997 election did – there is an opportunity now for a new government to engage with educators’ key concerns. Elections are about winning votes and parties will focus pre-election on those things that they believe the electorate will prioritise. But post-election we need to hope that whoever is in government will have the confidence to listen and work with the sector and other parties to come up with solutions. There is huge wisdom and compassion in our profession. Many organisations and groups including ASCL, NAHT, CST, CCT and the Headteachers Round Table have launched their own education manifestos or asks in the last few weeks – they are all worth a read.

Having reflected on the importance of education in politics, it must be remembered that here, more than anywhere, the political is personal.  Educating our children should be bigger than manifestos and policy cycles, it’s about the personal success, opportunities and ability to thrive in life for generation too young to vote at the moment.   We must continue to speak out for our children and young people, our schools and teaching as a profession to firmly put this on all politician’s agendas.


Maria Dawes, CEO for SAfE & Surrey Teaching School Network

Schools Alliance For Excellence (SAfE) supports inclusivity and excellence

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