By Mark Richards,
Much has been made of the fact that new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, will have found a stacked and bulging in-tray waiting for her as she entered 10 Downing Street. There is no doubt that there is a genuine education crisis looming, leaving the new PM with much to tackle.
In education – an area which has seen three different secretaries of state in as many months – the trouble and challenges will be coming at Liz Truss from several fronts. There is the genuine threat of strikes, a growing mental health crisis among young people, and a widening disadvantage gap and regional disparity in student attainment. Of course, all of this is underpinned by a major squeeze on state finances.
Let’s look at some of the most urgent issues within education that Truss will be under immediate pressure to address.
Funding and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis
Many prominent figures within education have expressed their concern about the urgency of the situation in schools. Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College (ASCL), commented that there are “absolutely massive, urgent and immediate risks posed by cost pressures” on schools. He warned that there is a serious risk that educational standards will be affected if the new Education Secretary doesn’t act swiftly.
Rising Energy bills
Another pressing issue is the massive rise in energy bills. Obviously, school budgets were never designed to be able to cope with the scale of prince increases that schools are now faced with. Of course, the impact of rising energy bills affects schools in different ways. Firstly, the rise in costs is swallowing up normal budgeting and, secondly, rising energy bills will push more families into poverty. Ultimately, this will result in more children being left cold and hungry and turning up to school in no state to learn.
Teacher pay and recruitment
Although pay increases were announced in July following the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), issues still loom large. The figure that was ratified is significantly below the rate of inflation. Unions have threatened industrial action in the autumn term. Not only that, the impact of a below-inflation pay award is that long-serving teachers and school leaders are deciding to leave schools. Pay is not the only reason for the retention crisis, but it is becoming a significant issue.
The effect on pupils
Of course, the most important people in schools are the pupils. Already adversely affected by the covid-19 pandemic, there is now a real concern that the cost-of-living crisis will also weaken the life chances of poor pupils. Commentators have warned that a whole generation of pupils is at risk of being permanently scarred. Due to the covid pandemic, the government has had a major focus on pupil attendance. This must continue to be the case. There are approximately 1.7 million children who are persistently absent from school. School leaders are understandably concerned that this situation could worsen as budgets are forced to cover rising bills rather than the extra staff, resources and support that is needed in schools to improve attendance overall.
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