Issue 131 - 2024 Summer term
ASCL Director of Policy Julie McCulloch on the surprise summer election and ASCL’s work with policymakers.
 

ASCL influence

Julie McCulloch
ASCL Director of Policy
So, the waiting game is over. The Prime Minister, to most people’s surprise, has announced that the General Election will take place on 4 July. At the time of writing, Parliament is about to be dissolved, and we are entering the pre-election period (what used to be known as Purdah). ministerial and departmental activity is restricted during this period while the parties campaign for re-election.
 
ASCL published its own election manifesto back in the summer. The manifesto sets out the three areas where we believe any incoming government must focus its priorities: the recruitment and retention crisis, the widening disadvantage gap, and the ever-expanding expectations on schools and colleges. It sets out a series of policies we are urging all parties to commit to in their own manifestos and argues strongly that the new government must urgently re-invest in our crumbling education system.
 
Even before the election was formally announced, it was clearly dominating political discourse and thinking. On the one hand, ministers’ ever-diminishing time left in office was focusing their minds, making them determined to sort out any unfinished business. And Labour – as you might expect, given its lead in the polls – has been working overtime. While the party is being understandably cautious about revealing detailed plans at this point, there’s an enormous amount of work going on behind the scenes to turn its current fairly vague aspirations (such as those in its ‘opportunity mission’ into a) a set of manifesto commitments, and b) a credible plan for government.
 
Urging politicians to take on your views
ASCL has continued to work over the last few months with both the current government and the opposition parties to encourage them to take on board our members’ views, both now and in the future.
 
Our small pay and conditions team has been burning the candle at both ends to put together incredibly comprehensive and compelling written submissions to the pay review bodies in both England and Wales. The team also supported General Secretary Pepe Di’Iasio, and the Chair of ASCL Council’s Conditions and Employment Committee, Jonathan Mellor, in their oral evidence session with the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) in April. We await the review bodies’ recommendations and the governments’ responses – the latter now unlikely to happen until after the election.
 
Our Deputy Director of Policy, Sara Tanton, has been representing the views of ASCL members on the DfE’s workload reduction taskforce. This was set up as one of the outcomes of the industrial action talks last year. While the recommendations of this group can only go so far in addressing the recruitment and retention crisis, we’re hopeful that they will have a beneficial impact on the current unsustainable workloads of so many school and college staff – assuming that the next government will continue this focus.  
 
Our engagement with new HMCI Sir Martyn Oliver and his team continues to be positive. Sir Martyn held a private session with Council members at ASCL’s Annual Conference in March, and we will build on the points made there in our formal submission to Ofsted’s ‘Big Listen’.
You can read ASCL’s views on the future of inspection in our policy paper on the subject here.
 
We’ve also submitted detailed responses to a number of government consultations over the last few months, including on the Advanced British Standard (the Prime Minister’s ten-year plan for 16–19 education, should he be re-elected), and on the DfE’s draft guidance for schools and colleges in relation to gender-questioning children.
 
Influencing the future
Turning to the future, we continue to talk to all the major parties about what you – our members – are telling us are the biggest issues you face, and what you need any incoming government to focus on.
 
We’re very pleased with our increasingly close working relationship with the Labour education team. I have a standing meeting with the team every month, and we speak regularly in between. Work we’ve done with them over the last few months includes:
 
  • discussing in detail each of our 20 ‘quick wins’ for an incoming Labour government
  • feeding into the emerging plans for Labour’s proposed Curriculum and Assessment Review
  • discussing how Labour could deliver on its commitment (in its ‘opportunity mission’) to introduce a continuing professional development (CPD) entitlement for all teachers
  • discussing what support new heads need, and what role there might be for government in that, as part of a broader briefing on recruitment and retention
  • exploring what Labour’s proposed school report card might look like
 
We’re also pleased to have been able to arrange a number of private sessions between Shadow Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson and groups of ASCL members, including at the February meeting of ASCL Council, at our Annual Conference, and with leaders from the independent sector.
 
Finally, Julia Harnden, our Funding Specialist, is working on an updated version of the True Cost of Education report we first published in 2019. This will consider how the national funding formulae could be developed into a clear, consistent approach to 0–19 funding, based on a detailed analysis of what every child and young person needs to succeed. It will include an agile response to the fluctuating needs of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the impact of the declining pupil population nationally, the particularly parlous and inconsistent state of post-16 funding, and a view on what broader children’s services schools and colleges should be expected to provide, and how much this will cost. Watch this space.
 
Whatever happens on 4 July, we’ll continue to ensure that the views of ASCL members are front and centre in policymakers’ thinking.
 

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