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Lucy Powell pledges to engage with teaching profession

ATL | Association of Teachers and Lecturers

3 min read Partner content

New Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell MP told a fringe meeting of teachers, industry experts and party members that she was very much “in listening mode” and keen to develop Labour Party policy in a thought-through and non-kneejerk fashion.

The starting point on how to develop policy would be addressing how to close the education gap that existed between children from less advantaged backgrounds and those from more advantaged backgrounds, she argued:

“There is nothing that can greater address inequalities than a route through education.”

General Secretary of the ATL, Mary Bousted, referenced the Children’s Society’s 2015 Good Childhood Report, which reported that 65% of teachers said testing and exams were causing intense stress to young people, with only 34% of 10-11 year olds saying they wanted to go to school.

“We are putting children through a marathon of exams that is going to get worse and worse”, she said, producing tremendous stress on children, particularly those who didn’t have support at home.

All this might be justified if the results of this stressful process were valued by business and industry, she added, but noted the words of CBI Director General John Cridland recently, when had been urging the Government to consider a complete revision of how children were being taught in schools. He indicated that something new was needed, Bousted said.

“Teachers are being left to deal with children with severe mental health issues” she said.  “These children and young people are in need of further support, and it simply isn’t there.”

Wendy Ellyatt, chief executive of the Save Childhood Movement said today’s world was a dramatically changing one for children to be growing up in.

She emphasised the enormous potential for prioritising early years education, arguing that to ignore it and simply focus on formal education was an “enormous betrayal” of that potential.

Ellyatt suggested that this was a product of the traditional education system focus on the achievement rather than the development of a child.  “Collaboration, partnership, evidence” were all key, she stressed, adding that it was crucial to position children at the centre of education thinking, rather than phrasing discussions around whether a child was ‘ready’ for formal education.

Shadow education minister Sharon Hodgson MP emphasised the need to promote play in a child’s development, agreeing that children were often forced into formal education too early.

Was education intended to produce good exam results or a well-rounded human being, she asked.  The answer was obviously ‘both’, but the question of whether this was being achieved was far more unclear, she argued.  She spoke of the virtues of subjects like sports acting as a hook to engage children with other school subjects.

John Cameron, head of helplines at the NSPCC, echoed the need for collaboration and bemoaned the lack of creativity in education currently.  He was keen for children to be appropriately pushed to perform well, but argued that a balance had to be struck.

Children were experiencing huge levels of pressure from teachers, parents and their peers, and these pressures needed to be managed, he said, arguing that children were actually happy when they succeeded and achieved.

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