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NGA's comment on announcement of Labour's vision for education

Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Bridgit Phillipson MP, delivered her speech on the last day of the Labour Party conference, unveiling Labour’s vision for education. She spoke of the party’s commitment to investing in early years education, recognising its pivotal role in mitigating later attainment gaps. She also unveiled plans for proposed early years review as well as reforms to the maths curriculum, with a focus on real life numeracy.

Responding, NGA’s co-chief executives, Emma Knights and Emma Balchin, said:

We welcome Labour’s announcement of new investment into childcare and a renewed focus on early years education. We know that the early years are the most crucial years for children’s learning and quality teaching at this stage acts as a powerful tool in reducing the attainment gap later in childhood. The launch of an early years review would be a very positive step towards achieving this goal.

Governing boards have continued to express their growing concerns over the recruitment and retention of support staff in recent years, with many leaving their roles for higher paid jobs in other sectors, such as retail. We are encouraged to hear the shadow education secretary recognises their pivotal role in delivering change for children and we welcome the plans to ensure their voice is elevated and amplified through a School Support Staff Negotiating Body.

Governing boards repeatedly tell us that recruiting and retaining quality maths teachers is a challenge, so while we welcome Labour’s proposed focus on functional and accessible numeracy as an important part of the curriculum offer, the revisions must be part of a wider improvement plan, including addressing the shortage of maths teachers, alongside a quality ongoing training and development offer.

It is also essential to acknowledge that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a profound and lasting impact on the pupils learning and wider wellbeing. Whilst we have been supporters of The National Tutoring Programme in helping students catch up on lost learning, it has been disappointing to see it fail to achieve the potential impact it could have had. Schemes which devolve decision making to trusts and schools that know their pupils generally work best.

We welcome Bridget Phillipson MP’s stated intention to explore the provision of tailored support for children to catch up on lost learning both in response to the impact of lost learning due to the pandemic and longer term. We would, however, also call for Labour to consider the broader underlying factors that hinder learning, including funding local authorities to provide children with the support they need to be safe and engage with learning.

When developing their policy proposals, we strongly encourage the Labour Party to listen to governing boards as the responsible entity for schools and trusts.