We are thrilled that Rescue Our Schools’ co-founder, Madeleine Holt, has won the 2019 Fred and Anne Jarvis Award for education campaigning, given by the National Education Union. Madeleine helped set up RoS three years ago and was active in creating the More than A Score alliance for alternatives to high stakes tests in primary schools. Last week Jeremy Corbyn announced that a Labour government will abolish SATs and the government’s proposed baseline testing of four-year-olds.
In her acceptance speech at the NEU conference in Liverpool, Madeleine urged Labour to join the Lib Dems and Green party in expanding their education vision to include secondary schools – in particular the huge stress students now face doing the new GCSES, which Michael Gove deliberately made harder. You can watch her speech or read it below:
First of all, thank you to Amanda Martin and her Portsmouth colleagues for nominating me for this award. I am absolutely delighted to receive it.
I would also like to thank all my Rescue Our Schools colleagues, who together keep it going.
So I was going to use this moment to urge Labour to come out with some concrete education policies. And then Jeremy Corbyn announces he is going to get rid of SATS!
Since Rescue Our Schools is part of the brilliant More than a Score along with the NEU – and for which I make campaign films – I am obviously delighted about what he said. But I guess my message now is: keep it up! And please extend your vision to secondary education.
Because since we set up Rescue Our Schools three years we have become particularly concerned about the mental health of students enduring the new GCSES – something which is reflected in the NEU survey today.
One of my children is doing these exams this year. And, as many of you know, they are no longer a General Certificate of Education. Too many students are excluded from showing what they are capable of. It’s back to O levels – except there’s no CSEs, there’s just a collection of fails for the kids who don’t make the grade. As my son put it, “I can get through this, but some can’t, and that’s not right.”
As we all know, our education system is institutionally insensitive to anyone who is not academic, compliant and tough enough to survive 25 GCSE exams over a month. Add in the funding cuts, and this government has created a hostile environment for learning.
But we know that changing the system takes perhaps 5 to 6 years, and staff are in no mood for more upheaveal. Yet in that time we will see up to 3 million teenagers turned off learning. That’s too many.
So this is the conumdrum: how can we make GCSEs in particular less stressful in the short term? We could get rid of the ebacc and Progress 8. We could tell students that exams at 18 matter more. We would love to work with the NEU and others on how to help our teenagers get through this with their mental health intact. And let’s have a proper inquiry into the effect of high stakes exams on students’ well being.
But we all know there’s a bigger battle to fight – our education system is not fit for purpose. In fact my daughter told me the other day that SCHOOL stands for Six Cruel Hours Of Our Lives – something that for once I was grateful she had got off the internet rather than it being a personal comment on her education.
It was enlightening to see the Tory MP Robert Halfon call the other day for GCSEs to be scrapped. All credit to the NEU for backing this. But after Jeremy Corybn’s properly inspiring speech, let’s hope the principles he laid out – that we need to prepare children for life, not just for tests – will very soon embrace education as a whole. How about a national conversation on the purpose of education, just like in New Zealand?
Because parents are voters – there’s 13.8 million of them in England alone. And there’s votes in saying we need a system that puts ALL students’ mental health first and celebrates ALL kinds of talents. Because parents know, through basic common sense, that exam factories do not amount to an education. So, Jeremy, keep up the barnstorming announcements. Bring it on!
Madeleine Holt talks to Nick Ferrari this morning about school uniforms after this article in The Mirror sparks debate. Read the article here
What do you think? Does your school’s choice of uniform have any bearing on your children’s schooling?
• Analysis of the actual school funding allocations from 2015/16 to 2018/19 shows that the real terms cuts are probably even worse than the £2.5bn that were originally estimated – as school costs have actually turned out to have been higher than the NAO originally anticipated. What we do know is that schools in England received over £2.5bn less in real terms this year than the start of the 2015/16.
• There are 66,000 more kids in state schools in England this year compared to last, yet compared to last year there are 10,800 fewer staff in our school – including over 5,000 fewer teachers, over 2,500 fewer teaching assistants and over 2,000 fewer support staff.
• And a major survey by the National Governors Association this month shows that “three-quarters of governors believe financial pressures will harm the quality of education and nearly a third of schools were in the red”.
All this means, we’re still seeing:
• Heads increasingly struggling to balance budgets
• Cuts to staffing
• Increasing difficulties matching funding to special education needs and vulnerable pupils
• Cuts to counselling and mental health services for kids
• Parents being asked for regular funding contributions
• The budget will be held in October this year – a very important one as it is likely to indicate the total spending envelope over the next 4 year period (the spending review)
• Next year the spending review will set out what each government department is planned to receive in terms of revenue (day to day) and capital (buildings, equipment) over each of the next four years
• The Chancellor therefore has the opportunity to reverse austerity and spending cuts and start investing in schools and other public services
• Research (by New Economics Foundation and others) recently published suggests that the Chancellor could borrow up to £30bn more without breaching his ‘fiscal rules’ – these are the limits that the Chancellor has put on borrowing and spending in order to eliminate the deficit and bring borrowing down as a % of GDP
• We are seeing more and more Conservative MPs voice their concerns about this. In recent months, we’ve seen Theresa Villiers, Ann Main and Tim Loughton (ex-children’s minister) have all publicly raised concerns about impact of cuts to schools.
Events coming up:
• Parents and children are meeting MPs at Westminster this Wednesday 10 October
• The F40 group of lowest funding local authorities are meeting MPs at Westminster on 15 October
Parents, teaching unions, headteachers, F40 and National Governors Association are all out there making the case for more funding for schools in order to:
• Reverse cuts since 2015
• Enabling real terms funding increases per pupil going forward
• Meet increasing school costs, including teacher pay, pensions, NI, apprenticeship levy, inflation and other costs
• Ensure the implementation of a fair National Funding Formula that doesn’t relay on taking money away from some schools to give to others.