Commenting on the publication of the Schools White Paper, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"This is a White Paper which does not reflect on the mistakes of the past, does not address the problems of the Covid-19 present and does not have the answers for the future. Its message is that the education of the future will be a souped-up version of what we have seen over the last decade. Schools and their students need better than that. This is not the vision of education recovery which is needed for England.
"Schools are being battered here and now by a storm of real problems. Funding levels are inadequate. Child poverty is increasing. Key indicators of attainment, such as the attainment gap, are moving in the wrong direction. Targets for teacher recruitment are not being met while low play and intense pressures of workload are leading teachers to leave in large numbers. Our curriculum and qualifications system is outdated and sells our students short. The pressure on budgets mean cuts to teaching assistants and welfare posts.
"The White Paper does not recognise the seriousness and depth of these issues. Even where it points to important problems, such as mental health, support for SEND and behaviour, it does not commit sufficient funding to them.
"Its main message is ‘academise, academise, academise’ and a reliance on multi-academy trusts which is simply not-evidence led. Last week the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reported that the existing academy system lacked transparency and accountability and spoke of the ‘mysterious millions’ that disappeared into the coffers of favoured trusts. The White Paper presents this flawed and failing approach as the education of the future. Without convincing evidence for the ‘value added’ by academisation, it sets out a massive, costly and unwelcome programme of structural change. The White Paper does not recognise that the problems our system faces need to be addressed by bold, inclusive and compassionate thinking and by multi-agency working, strong support services, and well-resourced local authorities. The DFE needs to address the serious issues highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee about the academy system.
"The Department for Education (DfE) has not listened to the emerging consensus that the English system of curriculum and assessment needs fundamental modernisation. The concerns of teachers, researchers and international experts that our system promotes teaching to the test, narrows the curriculum and fails to engage learners have not reached the government. Instead, government aims to keep a failed system in place with the inevitable negative impact on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It aims to keep a failed system in place and to require students and teachers to work ever harder to meet its demands. Expecting 90% of 11-year-olds to meet an arbitrary ‘expected standard’ in Maths and English at Key Stage 2 without giving any indication of the support that will be needed to achieve this target will immediately raise the temperature in the educational hothouse that schools have become. It will particularly affect SEND children whose SATs results ‘bake in’ their educational failure.
"Schools and parents have been waiting several years for government to address the very real crisis in SEND and the scandalous gap between what parents need for their child with SEND and what an underfunded system is able to provide. What is missing in the White Paper is an assurance by education ministers that they have secured a commitment from the Treasury to secure the funding that is key to the future of SEND – funding for support staff, funding for support services and teacher education.
"During the pandemic, schools demonstrated resourcefulness and initiative in responding to students’ social and educational needs and supported families. The White Paper has not properly listened to or learned from on this experience. It aims to make whole school system march to the beat of a hugely centralised plan, with DfE dogma trumping professional knowledge and the local context. Many local systems of collaboration that are working well and delivering results are discounted and ignored.
"The statement that every school will have an Ofsted inspection by 2025 is not so much a pledge of support as another turn of the screw, which will increase the strain on teachers without addressing the gaps and pressures in the system.
"It is fantasy thinking to focus on structures and top-down reforms as the route out of a health pandemic. This isn’t the way to support better outcomes for young people, address inequality, close gaps in learning or engage and motivate the teaching profession."