Education, education, education. Less of that!
It makes sense to listen to an opponent of Conservative education policy, because otherwise Labour will just wipe the floor, however grotesque that may sound to Tory activists
Education is “at the heart of the election campaign”, professed Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, on this week’s Question Time. But whilst invariably stated at every election, if the Tories intend to champion it for GE2015, they have just dealt themselves a very poor hand.
This week PM David Cameron was rumbled after his constant assertions that the Tories won’t cut education were found to be largely inaccurate, with analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicting a real-term cut of 10 percent to the schools budget for England over the duration of the next parliament.
And this follows the squeeze that state schools have endured over the previous 5 years. The money received by many schools under this government has largely remained the same despite other costs increasing, including two pay raises for teachers and support staff, major rises in employer contribution to pensions, not to mention the impact of inflation, and major reductions in capital and 6th form funding.
If the Conservatives thought that this would go down without a fight, then they seem now to be believing their own propaganda that education professionals don’t care about children's education.
Many education professionals are now frightened by how another round of real-term cuts by the Tory government will impact on their ability to provide children with the education they deserve. And so they’re getting organised.
We may not see NUT, ATL or ASCL storming the gates of Number 10, but that shouldn’t lull the government into believing all is well. School leaders are openly discussing with their MPs, and most importantly with the parents what these cuts will mean to their children's education.
In one case, the headteacher of an ‘Outstanding’ academy is now calling on parents to lobby for changes to be made to the education policies ahead of this year’s election. In another, a group of “outstanding heads” had a letter published in The Times recently, expressing their worries with no room for doubt.
But rather than addressing these valid concerns, the education campaign continues to plough ahead with Nicky Morgan announcing more absurd and gimmicky policies, such as firing headteachers if a child fails to recite their 12 times table.
They are clearly hoping to convince the nation that they need the Tories to swoop in (again) and save children from those apathetic and incompetent education professionals frequenting our schools.
But these ludicrous means of measuring children and the success of schools just serve to show how out of touch the Conservatives truly are with the current educational needs of children (the twelve times table was previously necessary to compute in ‘base 12’ for calculations with imperial measures, rendered redundant since decimalisation).
But what does all this mean for GE2015? The Conservatives have given Labour real potential to positively differentiate themselves from the other parties on the question of education.
If Labour can communicate how the current Conservative plans will affect the quality of children's’ education, social mobility, and the future economy, then the Tories could lose on a crucial component of any party’s electoral campaign.
The Conservatives have given Labour the ammunition to show the Tories aren’t just short changing children today on their education, but also the business leaders of tomorrow who within 10 years will be crying out for employees with the right skill sets - and that won’t include being able to recite the twelve times table!
It’s time to quit the gimmicks and start having honest conversations with school and industry leaders about what our children truly need to learn to prepare them for the 21st century.
Because if the Conservatives can’t improve what they’re offering children, parents and the future economy, then the heart of their electoral campaign is going to break.
Kate Baldwin is a political activist and communications professional based in London @KateBaldwin18
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