Commenting on the education section of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“There is much in the aspiration of levelling up that the NEU can agree with - but aspiration isn't sufficient and there is little confidence in a Government that has neither the right ideas nor the capability to implement them. Their answers of ten years ago, such as free schools and academies being the panacea to educational achievement, have proven not in themselves to be the answer that children, families, teachers, leaders and support staff need today.
“This White Paper does not provide sensible solutions to the lack of school and college funding, nor the exam factory culture - driven by national policies - which undermines progress on the skills and education agenda in England. It contains no recognition of the effect on the profession over the last two years and the number of teachers questioning if they can continue with so little tangible support, leadership or flexibility from the Department for Education.
“The DfE does not appear to be reading its own reports about the impact of Covid on learning, children’s confidence, and on areas of young people’s development such as speech and language and socialisation with peers. The White Paper should contain a proactive national strategy on student wellbeing and explain how the DfE will prioritise students’ social and emotional learning; otherwise we will see exclusions rising, lower pupil attendance and more demand for specialist services.
“The DfE must do much better to understand what supports and retains teachers and boosts effective teaching, and this has to involve real action to address teacher workload and pay. Levelling up must include saving the vital support staff jobs which are disappearing, with huge damage for students with SEND, who need personalised support.
“The silence around child poverty will deeply frustrate heads and teachers. Whilst schools do everything they can to counteract the effects of poverty on children’s lives, the responsibility to reduce levels of child poverty year on year must sit with the Government. The levelling up agenda must include a robust plan, across Government, to eradicate child poverty through national policies.
“With funding levels currently at the levels of 2010, many schools and colleges are running on empty. This is a shocking situation. Primary class sizes are at their highest this century and secondary class sizes are the highest since records began in 1978, with almost a million children being taught in classes with more than 30 pupils. It is hard to see how schools will be able to achieve the targets set out without addressing the fundamental question of insufficient resources. The Government must restore funding to all schools to at least the level of 2015-16 and needs to fund a proper strategy for education recovery.
“We hope the DfE will engage with the Times Education Commission report released last week and the Independent Assessment Commission released today, which are packed with innovative ideas about skills and learning after Covid.”