Prospect policy positions on education and children’s services

Prospect policy positions on education and children’s services

In the run-up to the general election Prospect is encouraging members to contact all their local candidates to press them for commitments on key issues relating to education and children’s services. Here we outline the priorities of our members working in these fields

Children in school playground

Prospect is a politically independent union. This means that while we do not support one party or another, we do campaign on key issues on behalf of our members and seek to test candidates – whatever their party – against our priorities.

As a union of professionals, Prospect looks to politicians, the Department for Education and education departments in the devolved administrations to listen to expert advice, and to make decisions critical to the futures of our children and young people based on evidence, not their personal experiences and preconceived ideas. 

Professional standards

Those working with children in schools and communities require professional support to function effectively. School improvement professionals and others working in the middle tier of local management in children’s services play a critical role in producing successfully educated pupils of all abilities. 

We call on candidates to commit to ensuring that there is investment in those delivering or advising on those services, and that professional standards are applied to them.

Prospect has previously produced “Standards for Educational Development and Improvement Professionals in Education” in England as well as versions for Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England these are referenced in the joint trade union/Local Government Association Soulbury Agreement for professionals and we have engaged in regular consultation on behalf of members with the devolved assemblies.

The standards encompass six dimensions:

  • developing self and others
  • professional leadership to build capacity
  • accountability – evaluating practice
  • promoting learning and teaching
  • working with and developing organisations
  • developing and sustaining partnership.

Among others, Prospect represents school improvement professionals. We believe that they have a key responsibility in advancing pedagogical change aimed at raising attainment and reducing the link between poverty and attainment. 

However, there has been a significant reduction in the number of these professionals providing support in education over recent years. 

We recognise that local authorities have had severe financial restrictions. However, reducing provision of professional guidance and advice is, we believe, a false economy. There is a great cost to individuals both in and out of education, with a knock-on financial impact.   

We wish to promote the vital role that local authorities play in assuring quality provision of education. Confident, well-managed schools are at their best when they are funded, supported and challenged by high-calibre, experienced local authority officers.

Prospect pushes for promotion of the partnership role of local authority services for children.  Education authorities work closely with other agencies to support the delivery of quality outcomes for young people. We believe there is a clear limit to the levels of autonomy, control and decision-making that can be passed to schools without considering these wider duties and partnerships.

Other key education issues

As education professionals we have an informed view on wider policy areas:

  1. We believe there is a need for significant investment in early intervention and prevention services for children and young people. This includes children’s centres, early help services and a focus on providing mental health services for children and young people prior to them needing a referral to NHS-run Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. These prevention services have had their funding slashed under the last government, but proved they were effective before this. Investing in them will prevent or reduce the need for social services and NHS interventions, thus saving money in the long run.
  2. Improving robust governance of all local authority maintained schools and multi- academy trusts (MATs) is of paramount importance. Prospect is concerned about the lack of local, democratic control over publicly funded MATs and free schools. Transparent processes must be in put in place in the local communities where those schools are based. We do not support passing all or increased resources entirely to schools, as this potentially compromises the flexibility and adaptability of centrally provided specialist knowledge.
  3. Applications for a new school in a local area should be subject to scrutiny by locally elected politicians. Robust consultation must be undertaken, with full disclosure of relevant information and reasonable timescales, before consent is given. This should include assessments of the impact on other schools in the area.
  4. Prospect is unconvinced by the arguments for reintroducing selection into education with new grammar schools. The debate could as easily be framed as the reintroduction of new secondary modern schools. Evidence suggests that selection for school places gives an advantage to pupils from better off homes and disadvantages those from poorer homes and that it does not raise standards overall. We believe that selection exacerbates inequality during a child’s formative years, while diverting investment from existing schools, when the child and young person should be put at the heart of education. We believe that all schools should be accountable to the local area they serve and should demonstrate that they are not being selective in their intake. All schools should show they are taking in an appropriate proportion of disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND), as demonstrated in local government data such as the Statistical First Release.
  5. Prospect remains concerned by the proposed changes in the schools National Funding Formula. While we recognise these could see a potential increase in funding for some schools, this is taking place at the same time as a real-terms drop of £3bn, according to the National Audit Office. With budgets squeezed, any increase in funding in one area will mean a significant reduction of funding elsewhere. The associated cuts to education budgets will mean a decline in the quality of education provided to pupils. We call on candidates to commit to ensuring that school improvement budgets are protected and a long-term plan is put in place to plug the gap created by axing the education services grant.
  6. We believe that local authorities should be able, with the agreement of the schools in their area, to top-slice a proportion of their schools funding to help manage the whole education system in their area. This would include, for example, ensuring provision for children with SEND and managing pupils who have been permanently excluded by a school.
  7. We believe that local authorities should have the right to attend permanent exclusion hearings for pupils in academies and free schools to ensure fairness and transparency. It would be a progressive step to give professionals the powers to establish robust and transparent processes, open to challenge, and to act against unfair practices.
  8. The Early Years Workforce strategy published in March 2017 recognised that the quality of staff in early years provision is particularly important to the development of disadvantaged children. Prospect calls on candidates to commit to enabling early years providers to employ at least one person with a level three qualification and providing funding and professional development to encourage recruitment and retention of these staff. 
  9. Prospect strongly believes that the joint trade union/Local Government Association Soulbury Committee agreement provides a good framework for negotiations and consultations for education improvement professionals and young people’s/community service managers. This agreement should be championed and its use encouraged by the DfE, not only in local authorities, to ensure a constructive approach to industrial relations, negotiations and consultation, with recognition for professionals trade unions such as Prospect.
  10. In the light of the vote for Brexit, we are concerned about the uncertainty facing children from the EU and their families if freedom of movement is taken away, as well as the impact on teachers and other staff from outside the UK, including many language teachers. We believe it also makes funding for non-academic multi-cultural education activities more important than ever, especially in the light of reported increases in school-based hate crimes since the result was announced. There are also wider concerns about the future of workers’ rights. All these factors need to be considered during the withdrawal negotiations.

Education policy in Scotland

  • Prospect wishes to ensure the Scottish Government provides sufficient funding for local authorities to improve the quality of learning and teaching, as this will improve outcomes for children and young people.  
  • Prospect strongly opposes any change in school governance arrangements in Scotland to reduce the education authorities’ ability to intervene to support schools, as this will seriously compromise the interests of the children and staff in local authority schools.
  • Prospect lobbies to ensure that key education and children’s services officers, including central staff, head teachers and teachers, are not overburdened by the requirements of any new education legislation, including the Named Person legislation.