'What will you do with your free time after May 6, Mr Balls?'

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
`And what, if the Conservatives get in, will you do with yours?' was the Schools Secretary's riposte. In the latest of the TES web-chats with the education spokesmen for the three main parties, readers turned the screw over funding, behaviour, the primary curriculum, and more

Andrea Walko by email: Does having a high-class degree make you a good teacher?

Ed Balls: No, obviously not. There are lots of great classroom teachers with third-class degrees. And I can think of quite a few people with a first-class degree who would not survive more than five minutes in front of a lively group of Year 9s.

`thats my lad' from our forum: What are you going to do about the lack of respect and indiscipline found in many schools? I fear walking around my classroom, I fear telephone calls from parents who listen to their 11-year-old over an adult.

EB: I don't think a well-led school should have problems with behaviour and, while I can't comment on the details of your school, the vast majority of primary and secondary schools now have "good" or "outstanding" behaviour according to Ofsted - much improved from a decade ago. We are currently accrediting 100 lead behaviour schools to support schools where behaviour is not good enough and pass on their expertise and experience. No teacher should have to fear for their safety in school and everyone has a responsibility to support them to keep good discipline: heads, governors and parents too.

Soapboxgirl from our forum: Why is it that your department boasts of improving discipline in schools, when our local authority is telling us that we cannot exclude any pupils because it will take it above its 3 per cent target?"

EB: I don't ever meet good heads who think that more exclusions is a good thing, but the decision to exclude is a matter for the headteacher and their governing body. No school should be prevented from excluding a pupil because of LA targets.

Ramjam from our forum: Why do you continue to talk about personalising the curriculum for each child and still allow classes of over 30 in key stage 2?

EB: We do have a law about class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, but in KS2 we have left it to heads to decide how to use teachers and teaching assistants to get the best for every child. The evidence shows that class sizes have fallen over the past 12 years in both primary and secondary schools, whether you measure that as numbers of pupils per teacher or per adult. But lots of heads clearly think they can get better personalised learning by having a teacher and teaching assistants in the class at the same time. And our guarantee of personalised learning in primary schools means that any child falling behind in KS2 will get extra one-to-one tuition. I don't think Government legislating for a maximum class size in KS2 or in secondary school would be the right approach.

David Clarke via email: Do you accept that teachers should always be in front of the classroom and if so, why does the Government not tell the schools to employ cover teachers instead of unqualified cover supervisors?"

EB: The principle underpinning the workforce agreement is that teachers, as professionals, should be teaching, not providing lunchtime or cover supervision. So it is for schools to use their resources to make sure they have alternative cover arrangements, and many are employing teaching assistants or cover supervisors to do that job. We have "rarely cover" arrangements in place, and the current situation with teachers stranded abroad is one of those times when - rarely - teachers will need to play their part in covering for those colleagues.

GuestGuest: What can we advise heads regarding the "wash-up" of the education bill and the non-adoption of the Rose Review?

AshAsh: What is going to happen with regard to the new primary curriculum?

EB: I was expecting the Conservative party to block some aspects of our bill, especially those, such as the one-to-one tuition guarantee, which cost money. But I was genuinely very surprised that they blocked the new primary curriculum, not least because it is so popular with primary heads and teachers around the country. We will get this back on track and on the statute book as fast as we can. We've just got to win the general election first .

elaibesduckparade: So what advice would you give to heads who have started their new curriculum design?

EB: We should introduce the new Rose curriculum as fast as possible. I think (shadow schools secretary) Michael Gove wants to scrap the national curriculum entirely . although perhaps just for some schools, as he is also planning to re-write the history curriculum to make it more prescriptive! If I were you I would just get on with it.

Maureen Doyle by email: We have had three Ofsteds at our primary. The first was good with outstanding features. The second was outstanding in one area and satisfactory everywhere else and very close to special measures. Third was good with outstanding features. How is it possible that the same school with the same staff can receive such varying responses from different teams?

EB: The inspection regime is a matter for Ofsted and not me - they report directly to Parliament and are independent of Government. I obviously don't know the details of your inspections, but I do agree that consistency is important.

becky: How many teachers have any confidence in the process of Ofsted?

EB: It is always bumpy when the inspection regime changes as it did last September: it takes time for both schools and inspectors to get used to the new regime. As a parent of children in a primary school which has just come out of special measures, the Ofsted inspections have been a very important part of getting the school back on track and re-establishing the confidence of parents.

BobbyBobby: Have you taken legal advice on the proposed Sats boycott?

EB: The law on the responsibility of heads and governing bodies is clear, but this is, more importantly, about the professional standing leadership and responsibility of heads. The clear majority of heads have not supported the NAHT proposed action, as last week's ballot shows. I very much hope that both executive members of that union and heads around the country will think hard over the next few days and not disrupt the learning of thousands of children.

Anthony_D from our forum: The Labour party has promised not to cut education budgets, but has promised one-to-one tuition for those who fall behind in maths and English. Does this mean that schools will have to do more with the same money? Who do you envisage providing this extra tuition?

EB: The money for one-to-one tuition is earmarked for 201011 and we announced the local allocations for this September just last week: provision for over 600,000 children to get 10 hours. In 201112 and 201213 I have guaranteed - with the agreement of the Chancellor - that budgets for schools will rise, per pupil, by 2.1 per cent a year in cash terms (and on top of that we have provision for 80,000 more school places). Our funding document last month showed that schools can meet their cost pressures, keep employing teachers and teaching assistants as now and keep delivering one-to-one tuition. But this will be a tougher settlement than in the past, so all schools will have to work hard to make their money go farther.

darkness from our forum: Why has the Government stated there would be no cuts to education, and yet councils are painting a different picture?

EB: I am hearing this a lot: twice I have been told by heads that Norfolk County Council is telling schools to prepare for 2.5 per cent a year budget cuts. Conservative Norfolk must be anticipating a Conservative government! The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that schools would be hardest hit from the Conservative plan to cut spending by pound;6 billion if they were elected. I estimate that this would require schools to lay off, or not hire, over 14,000 teachers - and a total of 38,000 staff when you add in teaching assistants and other support staff.

Shane Chowen: It is outrageous that members of the BNP can teach our young people. Governing bodies have a duty to keep all pupils safe, yet they can employ racists to teach in our classrooms. I also know of members of the BNP even making it on to governing bodies. This can not be OK.

EB: I am standing in the general election in the seat with the largest BNP membership in the country, so I have thought hard about this issue and was grateful for the very thorough job that Maurice Smith has done (in his report on whether BNP teachers should be banned from schools). His judgement was that the existing safeguards are sufficient and that a ban would be disproportionate. I have said we will keep this under close review and look again in a year's time. But any racist views expressed by any teacher in any classroom are totally unacceptable and against the law.

`bittercup' from our forum: Do you, like so many after the leaders' debate, "agree with Nick (Clegg)"?

EB: I don't agree with his plan to cut child tax credits and abolish the Child Trust Fund. But I do agree with him and David Laws that cutting education spending drastically in this financial year, as the Conservatives propose, would be madness.

Tom Quinn by email: Can Ed assure us that the grammar school system will be abolished if re-elected?

EB: I have not hidden my views on selection, and the Government has put a stop to any new grammar schools since 1998. But we have left the issue of existing grammar schools for local communities to decide.

`ed_ant2002' from our forum: Would you like to share with us your plans for how you will spend your enforced copious free time after May 6?

EB: If I have free time after the election, I will be joined by many thousands of teachers and teaching assistants who will have been laid off as a result of the George Osborne emergency budget . what a chilling thought. I think it's quite important we win for the future of education and the children of our country.

HSHS: Can we look forward to Mr Balls as future PM?

EB: The golden rule in politics is to always focus on the job you are doing, and being Schools Secretary has been and continues to be a great privilege.

Thanks for everyone's questions. I am sorry we could not answer every one - but as The TES said in its front page a couple of weeks ago, "education is a key battleground". I can't remember any election which was so important for the future of schools, teachers, pupils and parents.


For the full web-chat, and previous chats with politicians including David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' schools spokesman, and David Willetts, the Conservatives' university and skills spokesman, visit: www.tes.co.ukelections2010.


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