So the starting gun has been fired and the race has begun.  The next six weeks will see leading figures in all parties try to set out their stalls and we should expect that education will be a major area of policy to be discussed.  What should we hope for?

It is important to stress that TDT is politically neutral.  We will work constructively with whichever party forms the next Government and will not endorse any single candidate or political party.  But as an organisation committed to supporting the professional development of those working in education, of course we have views on what helps and what might hinder. 

All political parties could do well to think about their education ideas through the lens of our organisational values: Smart, Heart, and Humble:

  • Smart – is the policy idea rooted in evidence?  Is it shaped by what we know will work, or using new evidence to demonstrate how things can be better?
  • Heart – does the idea really understand the role that people will play in its implementation?  The best ideas won’t be effective if they don’t take account of the needs and motivations of the teacher in front of the class, the head leading a school, the early years professional working with a toddler.
  • Humble – does it consider alternative views?  Is it taking a curious approach with a commitment to learn and improve, or is it dogmatic?

We believe these values can apply to all decisions, at all times.  But what about the specific context of this election campaign?  There are three key issues that, we believe, should be paramount in any party thinking and policy formulation if we are to build on what’s worked and recognise what hasn’t. 

Recognise the fundamental issues

First, all politicians must start by recognising the scale of the issues to be addressed, in particular those around funding and delivery.  There are many, of course, and political parties will want to focus on those that tell the best story for them.  But all serious proposals must acknowledge the crisis of teacher recruitment and retention, the challenges of engaging with wider systems of support for children (and the devastating impact of child poverty), and the severe funding issues in the early years.  If these issues are not tackled then no amount of change elsewhere – on RSHE guidance, curriculum reform, SEND  – will matter.

Value teachers as professionals

Second, we urge all parties to commit to a strong relationship with the education sector, in particular recognising the importance of supporting teacher professionalism.  Policy development and implementation is best done with the profession rather than to the profession.  This means that all parties should commit to open and honest engagement with all those working in education.  Is this frustrating at times?  Yes.  Does it mean navigating contradictions and competing ideas?  Sure.  Does it slow things down?  Absolutely.  But the cost of not working with the profession – or worse seeking to actively undermine the profession – is policy that is badly implemented and not bought into.  To respect the professionalism of teachers and school and early years leaders means to listen to them, to take their ideas and experiences on board, and to find ways to move forward together.

Think long term

Third, given the scale of the challenges we face, we want to see considered and long-term solutions, not knee-jerk soundbites.  Whichever party forms the next Government should avoid the temptation to focus too much on ‘first 100 days’ type initiatives.  That does not mean that change can’t happen quickly – in fact we think that a lot can be achieved by engaging with the profession differently and there are a few specific places where small changes can have a big impact (on a parochial level we have already called for the restoration of funding for NPQs, for example).  But let no party pretend that there are quick fixes to the problems that exist in the education system.  This also means – of course – that the wider sector needs to show patience with a new government, accepting that the policies that are likely to have impact will take time to develop and implement.

Finally, we hope that the debates around education take place in a positive spirit.  There are different ideas that are valid, more than one view on what might work, and no such thing as a perfect policy.  Politicians, lobby groups, unions, journalists, all involved can help to ensure that the campaign shines a light on key issues and that we can have a mature and nuanced debate on how to address them.