This is part of a series in which politically engaged teachers explain why they support the party they do. The rest of the series can be found here.
I’ve been a teacher in a secondary school for the past 15 years. It was never easy, but the pressures we now face as teachers are leaving many at breaking point. We simply do not have the capacity any more to deal with the increasing educational and emotional needs of our students. Teachers are among the most dedicated and professional people I know. Out of a duty to their students, they work way beyond what can be reasonably expected, and have thus far managed to just about cover the cracks created by government funding cuts. But up and down the country you will find teachers and headteachers that tell you our schools simply won’t cope with five more years of the Conservatives.
Our schools and colleges should be world-class, helping every child, no matter their ability or background, to make the most of the challenges ahead. Instead, our schools are trailing behind. Teaching assistants are being made redundant. Cash-strapped councils are struggling to support children with complex needs and some schools aren’t managing to keep their doors open for a full five-day week. Parents are being asked to make donations of money and resources to help maintain the precariously balanced budgets.
The school funding crisis
Funding is far from the only problem with education today. Teachers are harder and harder to recruit and research undertaken by the NEU teachers' union earlier this year suggests that one in five teachers plans to leave the profession within two years. When asked the reasons why they planned to leave, respondents blamed workload and the accountability regime, along with the pressures of Ofsted inspections and school performance tables. I became a teacher because I wanted to inspire children and help them to achieve their potential from life, not to teach them how to pass a test or to be involved in time-consuming admin that does nothing but tick a box to keep Ofsted happy.
I will be standing in the general election for the Liberal Democrats next month. The fact that I would have to leave the profession, colleagues and school that I love means that the thought of winning is tinged with just a little sadness. Many things contributed towards this unexpected path in my life, but I am almost certain that I would not be standing if I was not a teacher. I found the Liberal Democrats because of Brexit but I stayed for their principles and their policies, and none more so than what they want for education.
We know that if children are left behind in the early years then their chances of catching up are bleak. The Lib Dems fought hard to improve the playing field while in coalition by introducing the pupil premium for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and universal free school meals for all children up to the end of Year 2. But this is just the start of what they want to do and last week, when Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson unveiled her ambitious “Plan for Britain’s Future”, giving every child the best start in life was at the heart of the plan.
Under that plan, the Lib Dems would reverse school cuts with a cash injection of £10 billion, to include the recruitment of 20,000 teachers. They have committed to increase the starting salary of teachers to £30,000 by 2022 and to invest in professional development throughout a teacher’s career. They would give local authorities additional funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities, ensuring that schools aren’t having to fund the additional cost from their budgets. The flawed national funding formula would be reformed to ensure that all schools in all areas are adequately funded.
The Liberal Democrats will end “teaching to the test” and instead support children to learn through a range of transformative measures. School performance tables would be replaced with a report card system that would contain a range of qualitative and quantitative information including the school’s values and ethos, mental health support and curriculum breadth.
Key stage 2 Sats would be abolished and replaced with teacher assessment and light-touch standardised tests to ensure consistency. Ofsted would be replaced with a new HM Inspector of Schools (HMIs). HMIs would not give schools an overall grade; instead they would use the report card approach to consider all aspects of a school’s provision and enrichment. The stakes associated with the inspection would be lowered and there would be an end to the assumption that a poor inspection result would automatically lead to changes in governance arrangements by enforced academisation.
In essence, the Liberal Democrats would put wellbeing at the heart of every school, putting an end to high-stakes testing that is hurting the learning and wellbeing of students and demotivating our hard-working teachers.
This is no sticking-plaster solution; it would truly be a transformation of our education system. A transformation that is based on listening to and working with those who really know what is needed – teachers, headteachers, parents and students. It is a set of policies that I am very proud to be standing on and to be able to share with my brilliant, exhausted teaching friends.
Louise Potter teaches history and politics at a school in Crawley. You can find her on Twitter at @LibDemsLouise
Later today, Tes will be publishing the results of its pre-election survey of teachers. Watch out for the results here if you want to know who teachers are planning to support in December's poll