Croydon Assembly’s ‘Save our Schools – Stop Education Cuts’ developed an action programme on four fronts when it met on February 24 at Ruskin House.
The working groups met following the launch of the Assembly’s People’s Manifesto for the council elections and a video message from John McDonnell MP, the shadow chancellor.
Here are the summaries of discussions from the four working groups. They will be used to develop an action plan and update our manifesto.
Campaign against Funding Cuts
First we discussed the funding crisis and its impact on schools – which has failed to support our children
Next, we split up into groups to brainstorm ideas for ‘What an ideal education system would look like’. After which, we then fed back our ideas.
• Every State school should be as well resourced as Independent schools
• There should be adequate resourcing- premises, equipment, supplies, space for play, sport & recreation etc
• Schools should be fully staffed with teachers & support staff
• Proper pay for teaching & support staff
• Fully qualified staff
• Training opportunities for all staff
• A broad and balanced curriculum
• Smaller class sizes
• No bureaucracy
• Reduce/eliminate need for excessive data collection/monitoring/reporting
• Education should be free including FE, HE. Tuition fees should be abolished; maintenance grants restored
• Support for SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) students
• Support for EAL (English as Another Language) students, refugee support
• Free school dinners
Restore EMAG (Ethnic Minorities Achievement Grant).
This grant has two purposes:
(i) it allows LA strategic managers and schools to bring about whole school change in narrowing achievement gaps for Black and minority ethnic pupils, which in turn ensures equality of outcomes.
(ii) it covers some of the costs of the additional support to meet the specific needs of bilingual learners and underachieving pupils.
We then read the proposed NEU Model Resolution on Education Funding.
We added, that we should write to Councillors, as well as MPs.
Also, the resolution ought to mention, that the government should cut corporation taxes to improve the economy.
We ended by looking at the success of the Finnish education system where children are not obliged to do homework.
The national curriculum is composed of broad guidelines, giving teachers more autonomy. The Finnish state provides universal early childhood education and care, which is believed to link with why Finnish students have the highest scorers in the world.
More Than Exam Factories
A small but creative group which agreed the following:
• We are looking for an education system with VISION, where children are treated as people, not numbers
• We believe that within every child there’s a genius, and that schools are there to help children and young people all reach their potential.
• We need flexibility in the curriculum, not over -prescription but space for children’s needs and interests.
• We need to trust teachers’ professional judgements
• We need to get back to university training for teachers, so that pedagogy is based on academic research
• Each school should have a library run by qualified librarians, so the school is well-resourced and children and young people have quiet spaces for learning.
• We would drop ALL testing at the Foundation/primary school stage, KS1 & KS2
• We would bring back all academies and free schools into local control
• We would give support to senior management so that they feel empowered to allow teachers to teach and children to learn.
• We would bring back an advisory service with resources for schools and advisory staff to lead teachers in on-going professional development based on academic research
• We give low marks to the existing Ofsted system, it needs to be supportive and advisory, not number crunching.
• Bring back Sure Start centres
• Encourage schools to organise ‘walking buses’ to cut down the levels of pollution around schools
• Resist all attempts to sell off playing fields- children need green space
• Organise breakfast clubs, free school meals for all KS1 & 2 and holiday food schemes
• And bring back School Nurses in every school
• Support for senior management so they feel empowered to let their teachers and children fly
• Bring back professional centres so that teachers can meet together and look at research so their teaching is informed by research instead of government diktat.
Education and housing
The cost of house ownership and private sector rents makes it more and more difficult for teachers and other key workers to live in London near where they work.
The NUT Manifesto for London for the Mayoral election outlined specific proposals for reducing rising costs. increasingly the supply of affordable homes and introducing rent controls.
As this issue affects other key workers NUT wants co-ordination between the unions to campaign on these issues.
However this should be seen within the need for the wide campaign for Council house building, rents people can actually afford etc.
Croydon TUC should initiate a discussion among its public sector affiliates.
Inadequate housing has an adverse effect on parents and pupils e.g. no quiet space for homework because of shared bedrooms; loss of sleep affecting ability to pay attention in lessons.
At secondary school if pupils cannot do their homework they get detention.
Housing costs for parents make it difficult to pay for school uniforms and the extras children need. In some schools there is pressure on parents to donate money on a regular basis because of the cuts in school funding.
Pupils who move school, regularly either tread water for a term or slip backwards educationally.
Schools need to be sensitive to the housing and income realities faced by many of their pupils.
There is inadequate funding for refugee children.
It is not just funding cuts which are a problem for Croydon but the fact that:
Croydon teachers are paid on outer London salary scales, which makes recruitment and retention problems when getting a job in Merton or Lambeth means they can get London weighting.
The childrens’ services crisis revealed the pressures the Council is under.
Additional points from Sean Creighton:
There are problems with the administration of the special needs procedures especially with delays in paying schools once education and care plans have been agreed. (This I and two fellow Governors have taken up with the Deputy Cabinet member).
Ofsted is trying to encourage schools to reduce play in Reception in favour of basic academic learning – big backlash to idea from across the education spectrum
The work of Fit2 Learn (Croydon based) shows that for little money motor skills and co-ordination problems many children have can be rectified dealt at low cost improving their enjoyment and capacity to learn, and reducing the remedial costs throughout their school careers.
Primary schools can imaginatively ensure a creative approach across the curriculum through careful planning.
Primary schools can ensure that children experience the basic demographic processes, through elections of class representatives to School Council and for Head Boy and Girl, including candidates ‘manifestos’, hustings, voting, and the School Council members counting the votes.
Education in Context
The education of children should be seen within the whole context of children, including family poverty, mental health, lack of youth provision, etc.
Given that the Assembly has been unable to mobilise large scale support, and has not got the people with the time resources to actively promote it, perhaps it is time to consider another approach, which is to have Assembly People’s Audits or Commissions undertaking in-depth studies into 2 or 3 policy areas. Croydon children’s policies and provisions would be a top priority. (A People’s Audit has started in Lambeth on Cressingham Gardens issue.)
Education and democracy
A democracy should mean government by the people – how does that relate to education?
Education should ensure that people are given a choice. But some people in the ruling class consider it is dangerous to give tools and weapons to the working-class people.
Education is now marketised. The purpose of education under the current system is to prepare people for the existing economy – but this is in contradiction to the ideals and aspirations of those who work in it.
The existing structure is undemocratic: Many believe that education can’t work under conditions where children are in poverty with parents relying on foodbanks and an exodus of techers from the profession
Children should have the choice of whether to learn in other ways than academic university orientated ones, for example doing something technical.
Education should provide an open space where people can debate what is going on in the world, but it’s not like that, especially with the media being so narrow in its debates.
The curriculum is becoming more narrow, when there is in reality a huge debate that needs to take place.
While social media does break through to young people, even that is problematic, because it’s dominated by massive companies like Facebook and Google – it’s still not quite democratic.
There is opposition to Prevent scheme, which brings in idea of “radicalisation” – but what is that? What is it that government wants to do?
What is the role of education in democracy?
There is a need to retrieve some of the democratic changes and gains made during the 1960s, including “circular classrooms” and free university education.
Education should be a place where young people can get well-informed, can debate freely without being judged, so that they can make the right decisions for their lives so that they can contribute to our society. rather than conform to a narrow curriculum.