UKIP: A Strong Voice for Wales

18 Apr

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I would always have expected to do a manifesto review for Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Lib Dems going into a Welsh election.  Truth be told  probably would always have done a review of the Green manifesto, although not expecting them to make the often quoted big breakthrough.  This is the first time I would have been approaching the UKIP manifesto, not with a view of a potential AM but with the expectation of guaranteed representation for the party when the votes are counted.  With that in mind, while I don’t foresee the party having any route to implementing their policies due to the fact that both Plaid Cymru and Labour have categorically ruled out working with them in power, their offering in 2016 is more important than it has ever been in the past.

I half expected UKIP to put out very little in their manifesto but in fairness the education section is not lacking in policies.  Again I have not covered the FE and HE policy areas.

School Funding

In a strong start UKIP have funding as the very first item on their policy list in the education section.  One of the big concerns in the sector is that we know  Welsh pupils are being underfunded in comparison to those in England but we not longer know by how much.  It is therefore encouraging to see UKIP call for comparative data to be restored.  Only by knowing the true extent of the problem can we really get to grips with it.  One flag on this however is that the reason there is no comparison data is because of changes to funding in England.  Therefore I’m not sure how this can fully be achieved unless there is a UK Government input.  However, it is surely not beyond the wit of man and if there is a way for the Welsh Government to achieve it then that is a policy worth exploring.

UKIP outline that they would reduce the supporting costs of educational expenditure to get more money to the front line.  I’m never going to argue against money heading to the front line.  Schools desperately need it.  However I am always a little hesitant about how easy it is to take money from one budget and assign it to another without implications for doing that.  Much of the “support costs” of education come from local authorities buying services and providing services with economies of scale.  If that money is diverted to schools, meaning schools have to directly procure those services, that can lead to inflated costs and administration for those school leaders.  I’m not saying this can’t lead to better funding but that it is something that has to be approached carefully and that it is often something that seems enticing but doesn’t necessarily work in practice.  The best way to get more money to schools is to get more money in the education budget in the first instance.

The final proposal in this section is perhaps the most controversial.

Abolish the Education Workforce Council, whose fees amount to a tax on teachers and which drain schools of funds which could be spent at the front line

Many teachers would agree with the view that EWC contributions are a tax on teachers.  The idea of paying to register to work is not met with huge enthusiasm from the profession, particularly with the recent increase to this fee.  However, I don’t think scrapping the organisation is a positive approach.  There is an important role for the EWC to play.  There can be improvements to the way it operates and its roles and responsibilities but undoubtedly there remains a need for it.

Supply Provision

Ensure that supply teachers are paid in accordance with their position on the salary
spine and receive pension rights, cutting out the 30-50% cost of agencies and saving
taxpayer money

This would be a very well-received policy.  The problems with supply are numerous but certainly the unfair pay and pensions provisions are at the forefront of supply teachers thinking.  Creating a level playing field, and undermining the negative influence of supply agencies at the same time, would be a really good step.

I’m a little unsure as to one of  UKIP’s other policies in this section which is to support the appointment of supply staff on two or three year contracts to cover a cluster of schools.  On the one hand there may be something in this to create continuity of teaching in an area and it provides stability for the individual.  At the same time if there is work to cover that period I would be far more inclined to expect schools to create permanent posts.  Also with the Agency Workers Regulations taking individuals over to a permanent contract rights after a continuous 12 week period of work then there is an element of questioning if someone would lose an entitlement under this proposal.  Naturally if the policy of ensuring supply teachers get parity of pay and pensions then to an extent this concern is perhaps a moot point.

Cutting Teachers’ Workload

UKIP will decrease the amount of paperwork teachers deal with, such as unduly elaborate individual lesson plans, excessive data collection, overly prescriptive internal assessments and dialogue based marking schemes

What can you say other than this is a commitment that will be extremely attractive to the teaching profession.

Primary Education

There are two key policies in this section and I have to confess I have cause for concern with both.  Firstly UKIP promise to ensure access to maths and science specialists, from universities and other schools.  Under this policy these specialists will provide support and can ‘take at least some classes.

I don’t have any issue with sharing expertise and providing support.  There is no doubt we have some gaps in recruitment of maths and science specialist in Welsh education, albeit this is perhaps more of an issue within the secondary sector.  Having such people come in and work with schools is a good thing.  Where I have concern is the idea of them taking classes.  Teaching primary children is a unique skill, which is why we have a specific training programme for it.  There will be some people out there with fantastic maths and science skills but lack the ability to communicate them to children, particular young primary children.  Many secondary school teachers would say quite bluntly that they would have no idea how to communicate with those in primary education, and vice-verse perhaps.  We shouldn’t pretend that an aptitude for a subject naturally lends itself to an aptitude to teach that subject to all ages.  Whats more we shouldn’t allow those without the qualifications to teach to do so, which would be potentially the case with inviting individuals from universities.

The second policy is to increase the number of hours dedicated to the development of literacy skills.  The fact is schools are already earmarking huge amounts of time to literacy policies.  It is of course a very important element of the timetable and rightly gets a great deal of focus.  However, we already know from studies undertaken that this focus is hindering the ability to stay true to the ethos of the Foundation Phase.  We also know that such a major focus on literacy and numeracy has threatened to narrow the curriculum.  I fear we should not be straitjacketing teachers further, especially as it would completely contradict the new push to a more free and trusting curriculum.

Modern Languages

I’m a big believer in language teaching and so I don’t disagree with the focus on it in the UKIP manifesto.  I do question however where we are going to find the Russian and Mandarin secondary teachers to deliver their broader range of language policies being advocated, although it does say this is a policy aim to be delivered over time.

Sport

I’ve blogged many times on the importance of sport in the curriculum and so am positive about what UKIP propose here in protecting playing fields and promoting sport within the curriculum.  I would widen the definition, in the way Sport Wales have, to physical literacy.  Many children want to be active but not in a sporting or competitive sense.  We must cater for the wider way in which we can achieve the benefits of physical activity on education.

Qualified Teachers

Ensure that all classes in Welsh state schools are led by a qualified teacher

This is an important pledge, which has been a universal constant across the political parties in Wales.  It does seem to be contradicted by the previous policy I discussed where UKIP were to invite university staff in to teach classes.  That can’t happen if those lectures do not have QTS under this policy.

There is an incentive based focus on recruiting graduates of STEM subjects, something all parties appear to want to get to grips with.  A welcome pledge if light on detail of what those incentives are.  Equally light on detail is the promise to give teachers support to deal with bullying and poor discipline. No one would argue against it but again there is no depth to what that commitment means.

There is, in this section, a criticism of the use of support staff to cover lessons and the explosion in numbers of such staff in schools against the declining number of teachers.  Side by side with it is the pledge to shift resources from adding support staff to a provision of well-trained teachers.  In principle I think this is a bold policy and something I have touched on previously.  It is interesting that UKIP, and thus far UKIP alone, who seem to have referenced this in their manifestos.  My only hesitation is that support staff do play a vital role and the figures and ratios are something that need careful consideration, as well as the funding implications of the policy.  Sadly once again the depth of detail is missing here even though the policy is one which will cause debate.

Estyn

What UKIP are proposing is a series of policies to revamp the way Estyn inspects schools in what they predict will make inspection less intrusive and more routed in a realistic appraisal of the school.  I think shorter inspections is a positive thing and shorter notice periods are also welcomed so long as they are matched by a realistic expectation and changes to what and how things are undertaken.  Overall this section is an interesting piece of work and again it appears that, thus far, UKIP alone have put this on their agenda for the manifesto.  As an aside it is also interesting that UKIP have specifically mentioned the concern there may be around the capability or agendas of inspectors.

Sex Education

There appears to be a great deal of mistrust around the fact that sex education exists in Wales.  There is a specific section on it as well as a note under the Estyn page.  Personally I think teaching sex and relationship education should be a statutory requirement for all children. The importance of relationships should be taught at an early enough age to ensure children have an understanding of the issues with teachers afforded the flexibility in schools to vary what they teach according to the needs of parents and children in their individual school communities

Grammar Schools

This was the headline grabber for most of the media when UKIP launched their manifesto.  It is a shame in many ways as it overshadowed what actually is a manifesto with some debate prompting education policies.

I watched the Daily Politics show on Sunday and to be honest Neil Hamilton’s explanation, or perhaps defense is a better word, of the policy seemed only to make things worse.

This is what UKIP are promising to implement in relation to grammar schools.

  • fund all secondary schools according to a single formula, taking into account Special Educational Needs, to ensure underfunding such as with secondary moderns in the 1950s cannot be repeated.

  • introduce University Technical Colleges to Wales on the Baker Dearing model which has proved so successful in England

  • allow existing schools to become grammar schools or vocational schools

  • base grammar school selection on an exam taken by all pupils in the final year of primary school

  • introduce transfer examinations available at ages 12, 13 and 16 for academic late developers

  • reserve a minimum of 10% of grammar school places for children from less advantaged backgrounds – as historically measured by eligibility for free school meals

  • ensure that grammar schools truly act as ladders of opportunity for bright working class children.

I simply cannot get on board with this proposal.  It is an outdated and discredited system that would be a retrograde step for Wales.  Say what you will about the Welsh education system but, as the OECD report concluded, one of our strongest assets is a positive comprehensive model of education.  It is something we can, and should, take pride in and remains a platform for success.

It is very worrying to me that UKIP believe in identifying children on their perceived ability at 12/13, as if this is fixed at such a young age.  I could rehearse the many, many, flaws in the grammar schools system but this EduFacts breakdown produced by the NUT does a better job than I could.

The Verdict

Whisper it….but there are actually some very supportive and positive policies in this document that would play well with the teaching profession.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole infatuation with a discredited and backwards looking grammar school policy pretty much jettisons the legitimacy of anything else.  While UKIP cling to that narrow focused policy it is pretty hard to give them credibility on other areas.  That said, the commitments on workload, funding and in particular supply are all very attractive.  This manifesto has some interesting themes with polices that should push the other parties into thinking about their offerings.  UKIP have put in work on some areas of interest that should lead to a further debate when they elect AMs.  It is just a shame that they have played up to the UKIP stereotype in other areas that have undermined that.

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