Teachers Oppose Miliband Over Parent-Run Schools

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Parents, pupils and teachers from the NUT and NASUWT unite at Copland School to keep an Academy out
Parents, pupils and teachers from the NUT and NASUWT unite at Copland School to keep an Academy out

TEACHERS’ unions on Monday rejected Labour leader Ed Miliband’s proposal for parent-run schools.

They were commenting on his Hugo Young lecture where Miliband set out Labour’s plans for education.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘While we agree that schools need to be accountable to parents, if parents have concerns about their children’s education, their child’s teachers, head and governors should be the first port of call.

‘If that proves unsatisfactory, parents should be able to call on the local authority to intervene and instigate improvements.

‘We support Ed Miliband’s proposals for specialists to intervene in any schools which are struggling.

‘However, we believe it makes more sense to strengthen the role local authorities play in supporting schools than to create an expensive new agency to do so.

‘Ed Miliband’s instincts to devolve power from Whitehall are the right ones.

‘His support for structured collaboration between schools is sound, and is what transformed education standards in London. The London Challenge should be used as a model for the rest of the country.

‘But his proposals on sacking head teachers are, unfortunately, made with an eye to media headlines rather than to serious policy-making.

‘Struggling schools find it extremely difficult to appoint head teachers.

‘It takes time to turn around a struggling school, and headteachers in these very challenging situations need support and understanding, not the hanging threat of a public sacking.

‘Headline grabbing initiatives of this sort will do nothing to help these schools attract the school leaders they need.

‘We fully support parents having more say about the type of schools in their area, but struggle to see how the majority of parents would have the time to run a school.

‘Without proper local planning of school places, which we think is best carried out by local authorities with their expert local knowledge, England’s education budget will continue to be squandered if whoever is in government allows schools – whether free schools or academies – to open in areas where there aren’t any shortage of places.’

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘What is needed is a proper debate and dialogue about how schools are accountable and to whom.

‘It is right for parents to be active agents within school self-evaluation and to be able to engage with how that is maintained externally.

‘There are however more immediate and structural issues that merit the attention of the Leader of the Opposition on this issue, such as the questionable relationship between Ofsted inspections and “school improvement”.

‘Teachers want to improve their own practice. They want to be the best teacher they can be, but, in the NUT’s latest evidence from teachers, only 24% of teachers believed the recommendations in their school’s Ofsted report would in fact help their school improve.

‘One in four teachers said their inspection team did not have the right experience to make accurate judgements.

‘Only one third (36%) felt that the inspection team established professional dialogue with the teachers or school leader.

‘The challenge to all policy makers is that there is no one prescription that should be imposed on schools in the name of “school improvement”.

‘The London Challenge – independently evaluated as successful and value for money – was operational over seven years, and advocated a range of strategies.

‘As a consequence London schools are the best in the country. The Labour Leader should not make the same mistake of the present Government.

‘There is clearly a problem with parent-led academies.

‘Without the local authority to hold sway on the provision of schools, the issues we have highlighted of wider provision in some areas and surplus places in others will continue.

‘There is currently school place planning chaos which parent-led academies could exacerbate.

‘The NUT agrees with the stakeholder model of governance.

‘The combination of local authorities having a strategic role in school place provision and admissions with a strong local voice through well trained and fully engaged school governing bodies is a winning combination.

‘There needs to be serious and informed discussion with the education profession if we are to achieve policies which are in the best interests of all.’

Blower went on to welcome the publication of a report on a proposed new College of Teaching as a professional body for teachers in England.

Membership would be voluntary and it would have no role in disciplinary hearings or in setting pay. Full members would need to have qualified teaching status.

The blueprint for an independent, professional body for teaching has been produced by a commission set up by the Prince’s Teaching Institute.

The commission included head teachers, teachers, academy providers, academics and teachers’ unions.

The teaching institute, which has the Prince of Wales as president, has been acting as broker for talks about setting up a professional body since September 2012.

The functions of the proposed College of Teaching would be to set standards, help with professional development and to use research to improve professional practice.

Commenting on the publication of the report A new member-driven College of Teaching: A Blueprint, NUT leader Blower said: ‘Morale in the teaching profession is at dangerously low levels under the Coalition Government.

‘This is reflected starkly in the results of an NUT-commissioned YouGov survey that was published at the turn of 2014.

‘This saw more than half (54%) of teachers describing their morale as low or very low, an increase of 12% since teachers were asked the same question in April 2012.

‘The survey also found 74% of teachers reporting a decline in their morale since the last General Election.

‘In this context it is hardly surprising that there has been renewed interest in the establishment of a College of Teaching to add its voice to those of the NUT and other unions, calling for renewed faith in and promotion of the professional autonomy of teachers.

‘It could play a useful role in facilitating access to and promoting engagement in research and advocating for a career-long entitlement to high-quality professional learning opportunities for all teachers, as is done by other professional bodies.

‘To be attractive to teachers, however, the College will need to show that it can contribute positively to the professional discourse, in particular at a time when the Government’s attacks on teachers and education are causing teachers to leave the profession, as they are feeling so undermined.

‘Costs will also be an issue for teachers.’