Education is nearly always the “easy target” when governments are forced to comprise on spending promises, according to the leader of a major teaching union.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, made the comments at NAHT’s annual primary education conference in London today.
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He said that schools could be the first to suffer if political parties promise more than they can deliver in the lead up to the general election.
“At the end of the day, children don’t have a voice and they don’t have a vote,” he told Tes.
“And therefore when compromise needs to be made, sometimes – or nearly all the time – it’s education.”
Delivering a keynote speech at the conference, he said: “I think the difficulty is once you get into government and you start beginning to understand whether you can deliver all those promises or not. What compromises will you make as a government if you can’t deliver everything that you wanted to deliver when you get there?
“Now, I have no idea – they may have worked out their sums absolutely correctly, there’s no problem and they’ll be able to deliver all of it.
“The bit that worries me is, when government does get there and they have to start making some of those compromises and some of those decisions, education is always the easy target. Children don’t have a vote; children don’t have a voice. And it’s always the thing politicians think can wait because it’s not the immediate thing – like the NHS.
“If you’ve got ambulances queuing outside emergency departments, we all see that, we all feel that – it’s very emotive. Children don’t shout quite so loud. So my worry is, if it can’t be delivered, will education be the first in the list to fill that compromise?”
When asked if he believes the promises made by the political parties, he said: “Do I believe any of them? I believe all of them. I have to. It only works in terms of how we interact with government as an organisation, and how democracy works, if we take at face value some of the things politicians say right now. [But] we should question them, we should have some healthy scepticism.”
He added: “All three parties intend to bring more money into education – the government just before it left office came out with a spending commitment; the Liberal Democrats have offered more [...] and now the Labour Party has offered more money on top of that.
“We’re pleased that what the Labour Party are bringing forward in their manifesto closely matches what we said education needs when we gave evidence to the education select committee. What we have to hope is whoever comes to office really does listen to the profession, and can deliver what it is they’re promising.”