This election has been one of triumph, mourning but above all, surprise. Not even the Oxbridge educated Conservatives team of election gurus could have predicted this late surge of support for their party, securing them victory at the strike of 22:00.
Juxtaposed with this Tory jubilation, teaching and support staff met in staffrooms across the country this morning, weary from a long week of teaching. But it wasn’t a lack of energy that was troubling our educators. The stark prospect of another 5 years of Conservative education policy was now a reality.
As a Politics Teacher, keeping politically neutral in front of students throughout this campaign has been difficult, no more so than on the subject of secondary education. Teachers across the country have ridden the vicious wave of Tory-led policy changes; although many are increasingly abandoning ship, finding the light at the end of the 60-hour working week in a stable 9-5 job.
The average teacher has little to do with school budgeting; ironic really as they are in direct contact with those it will affect the most. Dealing with tighter budgets is nothing new for schools; a 25% cut was correctly predicted by unions in 2011. This directly affected every young person in the UK, with increased class sizes to increased testing and unnecessarily draconian GCSE and A-Level reforms.
Severe cuts to special educational needs, for example, left our most vulnerable students without ANY kind of support in schools. The role of teaching assistants in classrooms were filled by class teachers, who juggled (often unsuccessfully) to aid those who could not access the curriculum with those who excelled and needed challenging.
The prospect of deeper education cuts under the 2015 Conservative Government is a terrifying one. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that schools could suffer an extra 12% of cuts, “once rising pupil numbers and increased national insurance and pension contributions are taken into account.”
Several leading Conservative Education ministers have alluded to class-sizes of 32+ to serve these cuts – could you imagine trying to teach 34 mixed-ability teenagers in a classroom designed for 25? Desperately trying to show their progress every 5 minutes, just in case OFSTED pays you a visit? Marking these 34 books ‘developmentally’ every 3-4 lessons? Creating ‘engaging and interactive’ lessons for these students, which tactfully balance supported learning for the less able, and push the most? Coupled with an increased teaching timetable, you are probably grateful for your office job!
Aside from marking, anyone who knows anything about teaching knows that data is our bible. At the start of each academic year, we pour over prior data of students, painstakingly attempting to memorise every level and plotting our intervention strategies for those who do not mould to OFSTED’s expectations. We need to show that we understand our students – not by knowing what makes them tick or how they learn best, but how they are performing. When the Tories announced plans to “limit the burdens of OFSTED” inspections, many were hesitant. They were right to be. What the Conservative government instead plans to do is rely almost autonomously on data collection from schools. Any rumours of bringing OFSTED ‘in-house’ were soon quashed – after all, the Tories and Privatisation are a love affair that will blossom under a solely Conservative Government.
A further bullet to the heart of our teaching profession is the compulsory EBac. In essence, this means that every Year 11 student, regardless of their ability or interests, will be forced to sit exams in English, Maths, Science, History or Geography, and a language. Not only are schools being shoe-horned into cooperation (the party manifesto states that any school that “refused” to offer the EBac would be unable to be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted), but the increased teaching time for these seen-to-be ‘core’ subjects is decreasing due to the aforementioned budget cuts.
However, this increased testing will not be limited to 15-16 year olds. Our Conservative Government plans to re-test those who fail KS2 SATs in their first year of secondary school. Rather than addressing the plethora of reasons why Year 6 students do not reach the ‘agreed level’ in English and Maths in our Primary Schools, the Tories again add to the pressure on Secondary Schools by plucking KS2 SATs training, manpower and teaching time out of thin air. And no, there is no additional funding planned for this, either.
And so, at the end of an exhausting week, I leave you with this. Schools are a lifeline for our youth. They educate, they support, they nurture. Teachers parent, inspire and motivate. The prospect of increased cuts to this vital lifeline for the next 5 years is only going to damage a generation of learners for many more years to come.
 Budget: Education spending – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10378384
 Schools could face 12 per cent cuts, says Institute for Fiscal Sudies – https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-could-face-cuts-12-cent-says-institute-fiscal-studies