About 50 people attended the Nottinghamshire NUT organised Education Question Time event at Chilwell School, one of the last remaining community schools in Notts, on Wednesday, April 22. Notable by her absence was the Conservative MP, Anna Soubry – odd really, considering Broxtowe is one of the most marginal seats in the country. Clearly Anna thinks these 50 people don’t need to hear what she has to say about the important issue of education. When panellist, Alan Gibbons, a children’s author, bemoaned her absence by condemning “the most brutal and ludicrous, pro-market, anti-child policies in the history of this country”, he received rapturous applause from the audience. So perhaps Anna may come to regret her absence.
The meeting was chaired by the Education Correspondent for ITV Central TV, Peter Bearne, and by general agreement, he did an excellent job, though, with 6 panelists, fewer questions than expected could be answered. The level of deference towards the panellists was also someone surprising, though Ray Barry of the Justice for Men and Boys Party, created a bit of a stir for his view that the low numbers of male teachers in primary schools was responsible for girls outperforming boys at GCSE level.
Positive endorsement from the audience seemed in direct proportion to the experience panellists had with what goes on in schools. Two of the panellists, Kevin Courtney (the NUT Deputy General Secretary) and Alan Gibbons are former teachers, so an audience largely made up of parents, teachers and students were most enthusiastic about their backing for an education system geared to the complex needs of children rather than focussed exclusively on academia. There was general opposition in the audience to the standards and target-setting regimes favoured by Ofsted and Governments since the 1988 Education Reform Act. When Alan Gibbons said ‘standardisation crushes teachers’ the audience cheered loudly.
Kevin Courtney pointed out the stark contrast between the supposed obsession with standards and the removal of the requirement of teachers to be qualified. He gave the example of a school in Leeds advertising for a maths teacher – qualification required? GCSE Maths! The audience very much endorsed his view that only qualified teachers should be employed from early years to the Sixth Form.
Diane Fletcher, teacher of French at a local Sixth Form College , asked the panel what value they placed on 6th form education given the huge cuts of recent years and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which helped poorer students stay on. Diane must have been a little bewildered by the answer of the Liberal Democrat, Stan Heptinstall, who spoke at length about the great work of the coalition government on apprenticeships whilst entirely ignoring Diane’s question.
Nick Palmer, the Labour candidate, made it clear that on post-16 and other sectors of education Labour would commit to maintaining education expenditure unlike the Tories, but he accepted that this many that might not be enough for many present. Alan Gibbons, to rapturous applause, said that Labour could coast the election if they raised the higher rate of tax to 60% and scrapped the trident nuclear programme. David Kirwin thanked Alan for his support for Green Party policy and made a commitment to scrap EMA. He was the only panellist to also clearly state that the Green Party would return all schools to Local Authority, democratic control.
A highlight of the evening was that two questions were asked by students from Chilwell School, one focussed on the lack of women and ethnic minority students in STEM subjects and the other on the pressure placed on students by relentless target setting. Both students gave the panellists a run for their money by offering their own very coherent, and somewhat left of centre views on the topics.
The last question of the evening asked the panellists if politicians should not just keep out of education entirely and allow teachers and other staff to do the jobs they are trained to do. Readers will be unsurprised to learn that the 4 politicians on the panel did not support that view.
A good account but just to clarify I made a commitment to re instate EMA not scrap it. I would scrap academies and free schools as well as ousted. Thanks for a good debate to all though.
Greens ‘Scrap EMA?’ Either that’s a typo or an interesting new development…
The question I regret not having been raised at the meeting in a constituency with a large number of students relates to student fees. Why are we landing our young people with a working life time debt of £45,000 a head in exchange for their university education? Much play is made of the fact that Scottish students pay only a fraction in fees compared with their counterparts in England. Unfortunately that is the wrong question. If you check on the site “study in Europe.eu ” you will find that English university fees are between 5 and 6 times the level they are in Germany, France, Spain and many other parts of Europe, including Scotland. In Austria, Denmark and Sweden amongst others tuition is free. All of these countries educate as high a proportion of their young people to university level as we do in England. The argument we are educating a higher proportion of our young people to university level than we used just does not wash. It is a political decision to land English students with this burden.
Stan Heptinstall the Liberal Democrat candidate for Broxtowe is a good guy — a respected mayor and distinguished academic, a good egg. Unfortunately he is also the Liberal Democrat face in Broxtowe, the local face of Clegg, Alexander and Laws who sat in a Cabinet and introduced a tripling of fees to £9000 in contravention of the solemn promise they had made a few months earlier in universities up and down the land. I benefitted from many years of free higher education as did Stan Heptinstall. The question that must be put by those currently studying, or planning to study, or with children in the university system is why have the Coalition government introduced such punitive debts for young people which are so totally out of line with anything imposed elsewhere in Europe?
Sorry to reply on the wrong post, but I have just seen your post on Bramcote Today and wanted to reply (but don’t wish to agree to the site’s new ridiculous policies)…
“I’m afraid you won’t get any responses from those not ‘associated with this site and its editor(s)’ or currently political candidates — as no sensible person is interested in providing such personal information to the site editors as it now required to comment. “