The Government White Paper
Is it really the right policies at the right time?
1. It ignores the real issues.
The White Paper does not address the very real issues in the education system. In fact, it ignores them. It is not an innovative or holistic programme and lacks the ambition that is needed on education and skills after Covid. It does not acknowledge the current challenges in the system, contain fresh thinking or engage with the causes of poverty and other inequalities.
2. It is not supportive.
The White Paper is described as an attempt to supposedly "support" schools and promote excellence in teaching whereas most of the proposals will intensify the pressures on – and ranking and labelling of – leaders, teachers, and young people. It ushers in more Ofsted inspections, it dogmatically alleges that "strong" trusts are the only form of school group capable of generating school improvement or professional collaboration: and it arbitrarily raises the targets for year 6 and GCSEs. This is not support.
3. Staff are under-valued.
The White Paper promises more of the same but conveniently sidesteps the reality that not enough teachers want to stay and work in schools which have become Exam Factories. There is no commitment to properly address or reverse the immediate retention problem or to create momentum towards keeping experienced teachers. OECD research is crystal clear that a mix of experience levels across a staff team is a prerequisite for good outcomes for students, especially in high poverty areas. After what leaders and staff have contributed emotionally, over the last two years of Covid, it's extraordinary that DFE aren't able to genuinely listen to professional concerns.
4. Workload intensification unresolved.
The commitment to some further professional development is welcome but the main barrier to teacher retention isn't CPD or preparation of teaching resources. It is the intensification of workload and the proliferation of activities which don’t help children but are driven by unrealistic “performance measures”. The use of the phrase "excessive workload, where it still exists" speaks volumes. The White Paper will increase the pressure to teach to the test and generate data and continues to promise too much interference by DfE in what and how to teach. We need an innovative and research- informed profession, to best serve the interests of the next generation.
The White Paper does not address the concerns of the Public Accounts Committee about the financial sustainability of the school system and their concern about how more deprived schools are faring worse than less deprived schools under the Department’s new funding system. Kevan Collins, the Recovery Tsar, recommended £15 billion for recovery education to ensure that the academic and wellbeing impacts on children and young people from learning disruption aren’t compounded over the next few years. This plan pledges less than £5 billion and does not address the underlying funding issues around schools in high poverty areas, including bigger cuts to LA services in those places.
6. Contradiction with the SEND Green Paper.
It's good that the tutoring programme is being delegated so that schools can now make their own decisions about how to deploy tutoring support to fit their local context. But the DfE is signalling that the cost of tutoring will have to be found from school budgets in the longer term and it still thinks national targets and centralised direction are the ways to improve educational quality. The tutoring package will not enable enough one-to-one support, small group work and personalised interventions to respond to longer term impacts of Covid on learning and inclusion. The SEND Green Paper and the White Paper are pulling the system in different directions. The DfE should be giving greater flexibility for schools and establishing realistic expectations for Covid recovery years, not tightening targets, because labelling young people as failures isn't okay.
7. Curriculum of the past not for the future.
The White Paper simply does not engage with the emerging and creative recommendations from the profession, employers and young people that primary and secondary assessment in England must be modernised. It ignores the growing consensus – across multiple independent commissions – that assessment must be changed to better scaffold children’s learning, motivate (rather than rank and number) them, and support powerful learning. The challenge of the future skills gaps hasn’t been answered in this White Paper, because it views a continued narrow focus on English and maths, and prescriptive ways of teaching reading, as a supposed magic bullet. Young people in maintained schools must have the same broad and motivating curriculum entitlement as students in independent schools.
8. Flawed case for top-down structure reform.
The Government’s case for a fully trust-led system is flawed. The DfE proposes a review of regulatory frameworks for trusts and new standards for collaboration, but the evidence base in the White Paper for the claims made about ‘strong trusts’ is misleading. The NEU has written to the Secretary of State asking urgent questions at the data analysis used in the White Paper. NEU Analysis of Government White Paper. The NEU has conducted a new analysis of Ofsted ratings of LA and MAT schools and the findings highlight the lack of independent evidence for the Government’s wish to require schools to join such trusts. Our evidence of Ofsted ratings suggests that schools that join MATs are less likely to improve and are, in fact , more likely to fall back.
9. Value for money.
The DfE has not delivered on the support needed by the school system and by school leaders during Covid. It is not good public policy for the DfE to now experiment with a highly disruptive, costly and unevidenced programme of structural change. There is an emotional cost for leaders, governors, and staff from the uncertainty it introduces; it ignores the extraordinary professionalism and local collaboration on display during Covid. It risks pushing out many already overburdened school leaders- particularly in single academy trusts and maintained primary and rural schools.
10. Choice and Voice.
It is essential that Local Authorities should retain the choice and the right to play a role in supporting groups of schools, outside Trust arrangements. There is fantastic teaching and leadership in many Trusts but it is plainly ridiculous to assert that effective teaching, professional collaboration and school improvement is achieved only in MATS and the DfE must acknowledge this. The governing bodies of maintained schools, especially primaries, must be given a choice and a voice over the future of their school – and the proposal that LAs should be able to force local schools to join Trusts must be reconsidered. Ofsted is not viewed as independent and the principle of using Ofsted ratings to compel schools or PRUs to join a Trust is not an evidence -based strategy.
11. Removing Barriers to Learning.
The White Paper minimises the social and economic factors that significantly affect children’s and families’ lives, including racism, social exclusion and poverty. It is not possible to level up life chances without reducing child poverty and increasing the supply of secure, well-paid jobs in all regions of the country. The DfE should be working with other Whitehall departments on a cross-government strategy to eradicate child poverty, within the levelling up strategy.
12. Value Education.
We must value the people who work in schools and colleges. The people who change lives, use their own income to help children and who spend hours marking and planning. The White Paper doesn't appreciate the value of fair working conditions and professional rates of pay; and it suggests that educational quality can be ‘delivered’ and ‘implemented’ separately from resolving the pressing concerns within the profession. The DfE appears to be nonchalant about the turnover and drain of staff within the teaching profession and within certain multi-academy trusts. There is a real danger that these proposals ignore the acute retention challenge and lack of subject specialists. We don't think that's what voters or parents want.