Jonathan Gullis is a secondary school teacher, and stood as Conservative candidate in Washington and Sunderland West in the 2017 election.
For too long now, the Conservatives have been too reluctant to talk about how our education policies are delivering results, whether it is helping to ensure better readers and more knowledgeable students, ending inflated grades, or better preparing future generations for a more diverse workplace by introducing Technical Education (T-Levels).
A survey published by the Times Education Supplement (TES) on 2nd June 2017 showed that 95 per cent of teachers saw education policy as ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important in determining how they would vote, but while 68 per cent of the respondents were going to vote Labour, only eight per cent intended to vote Conservative. The same teachers were asked how they voted in 2015 and 51 per cent said Labour. In just two years, Labour had gained 17 per cent.
Some obvious factors contributed to this surge in Labour support amongst the teaching profession and wider general public. Survation found that 750,000 people changed how they intended to vote due to concerns over school funding. As a candidate in the general election, school funding was something repeatedly raised on the doorstep. The manifesto pledge to inject an additional £4 billion still left a shortage of £1.3 billion. This was then promised by the Conservatives, but the damage was already done.
Another policy that we allowed Labour to mis-sell was the Free School Meals changes. The idea was to stop subsidising meals for families who didn’t need it and instead give more to those who are not as well off. This policy should have been an easy win, because pupils who need financial assistance would benefit from two free school meals – breakfast and lunch. Labour, however, spun the lie that all pupils were to lose their free school meals and, once again, this did real damage. But while our opponents cynically spun the issue, we also made a real error by not stating what the cut off point might be for those who would and would not qualify for the free school meal funding.
Had we really gone out and educated the public about our record and our plans, then a lot of voters would have paused to consider what education system they want for the next generation.
Before talking about our record, we need to highlight what we inherited back in 2010. Labour had dumbed down exams and damaged Britain’s next generation of workers. The CBI stated employers had lost confidence in Britain’s exams, and the system was failing to prepare the next generation properly for the working world. The independent Wolf Review found some courses ‘fail to promote progression into either stable, paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way.’ 350,000 young people had been let down by courses which had little or no labour market value.
In 2008, the Sutton Trust found that only 40 pupils out of the 80,000 eligible for free school meals made it to Oxbridge. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) said in May 2010 that by the mid-2000s the most advantaged 20 per cent were seven times more likely to attend a top university over the 40 per cent least advantaged. We’ve started turning this around. Despite what Angela Rayner says, the truth is that 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are 73 per cent more likely go to university than in 2006.
We only have to look at Labour-run Wales to see what that Party would do. Wales is officially the worst out of the four countries in the UK, as well as sliding down international league tables, for reading, maths and science putting them below the OECD average in each of the three categories.
Here are three messages to rebut Labour’s claims and to help educate the public about our achievements.
First, we have created a system where 1.8 million more pupils are attending ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ schools than in 2010. This leads to greater employability and social mobility. The evidence you can use to anyone who challenges this is youth unemployment is down 40 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. The figure is even more important when you consider that from in the period from February to April 1997 there were 652,000 unemployed 16- to 24-year-olds, and this had risen 939,000 by February to April 2010.
Second, despite some debate over school budgets we need to be clear on the doorsteps that core school budgets have been and will continued to be protected. Remind voters that the budget was increased by three per cent in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15 and is now at its highest ever level, at over £40 billion. When voters mention a shortage in school funding, tell them that we are going to invest an additional £1.3 billion, meaning education spending will be £2.6 billion higher by 2019-20. Further investment into technical education will see young people get the skills they need to do the high paid and high skilled jobs of the future: £500 million a year in additional funding will be used to give 16-19 year olds more training hours, 15 new technical routes and a high quality work placement for every student.
Lastly, standards in schools are rising whilst both pupils and teachers take on a more demanding curriculum and assessment. Recent Key Stage 2 results saw an eight per cent rise. This means 61 per cent of England’s primary school children are now achieving the expected standard, compared to 53 per cent the previous year. This has a knock-on benefit in secondary schools, as pupils have a better understanding of reading, writing and maths.
We must take pride in our rewriting of the primary curriculum to ensure pupils are literate and numerate. Making phonics compulsory in the curriculum, and ensuring all pupils can decode words by the end of Year 1, is crucial for pupils to be fluent readers. Only 58 per cent met the standard in 2012 – this has now risen to 81 per cent. Once you include pupils doing the retake of the short test in Year 2, this figure then rises to 92 per cent. By the end of Year 4 we want students to be able to recall their times tables up to the twelve times twelve.
In secondary schools, Ofqual has been challenged to ensure the end of course exams are on par with the highest performing nations, and teachers now have the power to deal with unruly behaviour. Rewriting teaching standards with a focus on the teacher’s subject knowledge and behaviour management means classrooms where deep learning can take place and in an environment that everyone can access and not have the few disrupt it.
The introduction of a classical liberal education system that has knowledge and rigour at its core means a better future for the next generation.