Education is one of the most important public sectors as it provides the social foundation for learning, career development and the resources that underpin the public welfare system. As is the case with healthcare, critical to the quality of these outcomes is the way education is funded, structured, resourced and monitored. Therefore, it is critical for the policies introduced to be focused on securing this objective. Yet, despite the rhetoric about education that is being bandied about by both of the main political parties in the run up to the general election in the UK, the evidence suggests that currently, the education sector is in crisis.
Media reports over the past few months have confirmed there are crisis points that have yet to be resolved across all areas of the education sector. These are all related to issues of resources and funding, of which the consequences of the following three can perhaps be considered among the most worrying.
Loss of qualified teaching staff
Although the loss of teaching staff due to retirement and other natural causes is to be expected, when such a loss of resources is occurring within twelve months of graduation this clearly demonstrates that there is a problem. Yet, according to a BBC media article by Judith Burns, this is exactly what is happening and, more alarmingly, at an increasing rate. The article indicates that “according to a teachers’ union’s analysis of official figures“, in 2011 nearly 4 in 10 teachers were leaving the profession within a year of qualifying, as compared with 2 in 10 in 2005. The main reasons given for this dramatic increase are comparative low pay and excessive workloads. Whether one agrees with this rationale or not, it is clear that the outcome is having an adverse effect on the level of qualified human resources required to ensure the continuing quality of educational learning for students of all ages.
Special needs education
All educational institutions have a legal and indeed moral obligation to provide quality education for students with special needs. Yet, the indications are that the fulfilment of these obligations have been “drastically damaged” by the impact of recent reforms to this specific area of education. Although the aim of the changes, introduced in late 2014, were to give children and young people with special educational needs, and their parents, a greater say in the support they receive, this objective has not been achieved in practice. In fact, it appears that the reforms have had the opposite effect. The teachers union have complained that not only have the management of educational establishments used the reforms as a means of reducing staff costs, but also that there has been a significant lack of training opportunities made available to teachers to enable them to gain the necessary skills and competences to provide the level of support that is needed to comply with special needs obligations.
Over recent decades, the UK has become an increasingly multicultural society as a result of changes in immigration laws and global migration trends. This trend has had an impact on education, which is predominantly related to the increase in the number of students “for whom English is an additional language (EAL)“. It has been estimated that currently, teachers are faced with having to cope with an influx of foreign children and students who converse in around 300 different languages, many of which are enrolling in geographical areas of the country where bi-lingual students were previously low or non-existent. According to the teacher’s union (ATL), this is having serious consequences for the continuing quality of education in the UK, particularly in primary schools. The ATL argue that this problem is being exacerbated by the lack of time and training that teachers are receiving to enable them to effectively meet the challenges of educating the mix of lingual and bi-lingual students, which means that the learning of all students suffer.
Causes and the way forward
It is argued that there are three causal factors that have contributed to these areas of crisis, these being lack of funding, training opportunities and, perhaps most importantly, policy making failures. The educational policies introduced by the present UK coalition government and those proposed by the Labour party, should they win the forthcoming general election, while suggesting these reforms that will improve the quality of education, are also covertly if not overtly linked to the reducing public funding for this sector. Education needs more funding , and this can be justified by the impact and savings that it will lead to in areas such as economic growth by improving the skills and competences of employees and reducing unemployment, and in public welfare, by improving the quality of social and healthcare services.
So what needs to be done? Well, instead of politicians simply providing educational policy ‘sound-bits’ to the media for the purpose of improving their public image and, currently, their election chances, which results in a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction by policy-makers as they struggle to turn these into practical reforms, a more measured four-stage approach must be adopted.
- There is a need carry out research to identify whether the perceived problem exists and, if so, establish the challenges that need to be addressed.
- Identify and provide the requisite level of funding, with this being targeted and controlled in a manner that addresses the specific threats that have been identified.
- Develop the appropriate policy reform based on accurate knowledge and information.
- Introduce systems that enable the outcome of the reforms in the practical educational environment to be closely and regularly monitored.
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