There is a longstanding attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers. The failure to address this, and the impact of the Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, means that it is now getting wider. ASCL is today stating that any government striving for a more equal society must seek to reverse this trend as soon as possible. The pupil premium can be a useful tool in this fight but needs to be weighted so that pupils in persistent poverty (those eligible for free school meals for at least 80% of their time in education) attract a higher premium in recognition of the additional challenges they face. The premium must also be extended to include 16-19 year olds.
In order for these changes to have the biggest impact possible, it is ASCL’s belief that the free schools meals scheme must also be extended. While the scheme as it stands is a lifeline for many families, there are many others missing out. Free school meal eligibility now applies to 22.5% of pupils, but we know that the level of child poverty is about 30%. We also know that 11% of pupils who are eligible are not currently taking advantage of the scheme. Extending the criteria for free school meal eligibility to all families in receipt of universal credit, and introducing a system of auto-enrolment, would benefit hundreds of thousands of children and young people.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Tackling the scourge of child poverty must be a priority of the next government. This is an enormous task but there are also simple steps that can be taken, whereby a small amount of investment can have a really positive difference. These policies will help to give children and young people a more equal chance of thriving in education, but pupils will only do so if there are also enough teachers. This is why any incoming government must address the worsening recruitment and retention crisis as a matter of urgency. Teachers are the foundation upon which the education system is built and that foundation is currently crumbling.”
The ASCL manifesto asks for a commitment to an annual uplift in the pay of all staff working in schools and colleges, that at least keeps up with inflation and addresses the decade of real-terms pay cuts. A review of the teacher and leader pay framework is necessary to ensure it compensates for the inability of schools to fully compete with other employers when it comes to flexible working. The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) must also be broadened to include all school leaders, including Business Leaders, to ensure that they are remunerated in the same way.
The manifesto also calls for meaningful action to reduce teacher and leader workload, including national standards around maximum working hours, as well as reform of the accountability system. ASCL is also calling for three-year funding settlements for schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision, to enable them to plan and spend their budgets with more confidence.
Finally, ASCL urges any incoming government to review the ever-expanding expectations on schools and colleges to provide services such as mental health support and social care for their pupils. This is having a profound impact on their ability to focus on their core purpose – education. The next government must commit to rebuilding the support services children and young people desperately need, so that schools and colleges can focus on teaching and learning.
Download the ASCL Manifesto for the 2024 General Election