Issue 129 - 2023 Autumn term
Geoff Barton says that the next government must tackle child poverty in order to give children and young people an equal chance to thrive.

End child poverty

Geoff Barton
ASCL General Secretary

As the old proverb says: ‘A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner’. Well, proverb-writer, you can say that again. For many school and college leaders, the seas around us have rarely felt less smooth or choppier.

Whether it’s the unnerving start-of-term reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis, a seeming epidemic of young people vaping or the general feeling that, post-Covid, the established social contracts between parents and educators, between pupils and their teachers, have fractured – it’s as if the old certainties aren’t certainties anymore. These brooding waters are decidedly turbulent. 

And for people like us – aiming hopefully to be skilled mariners but reduced sometimes to feeling we’re hardly staying afloat let alone steering confidently – we can feel engulfed by a sense of powerlessness. 

I know from listening to lots of members – in person at events and meetings, and via the ASCL ‘ Tell Us’ inbox – that these are proving challenging times. 

That’s why we’re glad you’re an ASCL member and why we’re so proud to represent you. Because it’s at times like these that we all need a sense of solidarity, to feel that someone’s keeping us informed, advocating on our behalf, watching our backs. It’s what the ASCL team aims to do for you, day in and day out. 

But there’s something more that’s now on our agenda. We’ve just emerged wide-eyed and blinking from the party-political conference season. 

In some ways the conferences don’t matter. They simply garner headlines that quickly fade. But in some ways, party conferences matter a lot. And that’s true this year. Because this round of conferences are likely to be the last gatherings before the next general election, and there’s an undoubted whiff of change in the air, a hint of what’s ahead. 

For us control freaks, knowing what may be out there, looming over the horizon, can help us to navigate choppy waters with greater assurance. 

I shan’t rehearse the big, small, and occasionally vaguely insane announcements that we heard from the conference stages. Instead, you can read Director of Policy Julie McCulloch’s colourful report.

Instead, here’s what we will be doing in the months ahead of a general election. Because one of the distinctive features of our Association is what we are: we’re proudly a trade union. And then there’s what we’re not – a think-tank. 

Think-tanks in education are important. They develop and promulgate ideas. They challenge and test emerging policies. They can do important thinking on what may or may not work across schools and colleges. They employ, in the main, people who may once have worked in a classroom but who now don’t. 

And that’s where we come in. We’re not a think-tank. Our members are still immersed in the day-to-day responsibilities and the burdensome accountability of leading our schools, colleges and alternative provision. Whether as assistant head or business leader, as deputy or head or CEO, you’re immersed in the real world of education as it plays out every day. 

And that makes your voice particularly important and especially authentic. You aren’t theoreticians; you know what makes our education tick. 

Our manifesto key proposals 

And that’s why – based on listening to our members – ASCL is proud to have developed our own manifesto for the forthcoming general election, one that we will be using to influence the various parties’ own priorities in their own manifestos. 

And, perhaps more than any politicians we’ve been hearing from, we start with the most ambitious of proposals – to tackle child poverty. We put it like this: “Tackling the scourge of child poverty must be a priority of the next government. This is an enormous task but there are also simple steps that can be taken, whereby a small amount of investment can have a really positive difference.” 

We then set out the ‘how’, with policies that will help to give children and young people a more equal chance of thriving in education, starting with ways to address the worsening recruitment and retention crisis. 

The ASCL manifesto also asks for a commitment to an annual uplift in the pay of all staff working in schools and colleges that at least keeps up with inflation and addresses the decade of real-terms pay cuts. We call for a review of the teacher and leader pay framework to ensure it compensates for the inability of schools to fully compete with other employers when it comes to flexible working. We say that the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) should be broadened to include all school leaders, including business leaders, to ensure that they are remunerated in the same way. 

Our manifesto calls for meaningful action to reduce teacher and leader workload, including national standards around maximum working hours, as well as reform of the accountability system. We are also calling for three-year funding settlements for schools and colleges, including special schools and alternative provision, to enable them to plan and spend their budgets with more confidence. 

Finally, ASCL urges any incoming government to review the ever-expanding expectations on schools and colleges to provide services such as mental health support and social care for their pupils. This is having a profound impact on their ability to focus on their core purpose – education. 

Our view – backed by evidence from opinion polling – is that education hasn’t mattered enough in the national debate about the future. Children and young people have too often been left on the margins. 

That’s why – however turbulent the waters at this time may be – ASCL will be here to support and advise you, as necessary. 

We shall also stay true to our mantra of speaking for members and acting for children, keeping our gaze relentlessly on the north star of optimism, there just over the horizon and working to take our education system to make it work for every young person, irrespective of circumstances or background. It’s going to be quite a voyage.


ASCL’s Manifesto for the 2024 General Election
Read a summary of our manifesto at www.ascl.org.uk/ASCLManifestoSummary and download the full document here www.ascl.org.uk/manifesto

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