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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Mick Farley: UCLan's Director for Cumbria

IT’S been a busy few weeks. We’ve had three historic party conferences, Lord Hutton’s Commission on public sector pensions proposed higher contributions and later retirement ages.

A landmark report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission was released and Lord Young pronounced on health and safety issues.

The Green Review into the efficiency of Government operations was published. The Browne Review of university funding advocated lifting the cap on tuition fees and changes to student loans with the Government declaring that it was “on the right lines”.

The Review of Public Bodies set out the abolition of nearly 200 quangos. And a ‘fairness premium’, extra spending on children aged two to 20 from disadvantaged backgrounds, was announced.

Last week’s long anticipated Spending Review revealed the extent of spending cuts and job losses over the next four years. The Coalition Government again insisted there is no alternative, blaming Labour whilst ignoring the global nature of the recession and the recklessness of banks. “We are all in this together”, but I doubt millionaires in the Cabinet will be in it with us.

Hiding deep cuts to education programmes outside the protected budget, sophistry was used to claim schools will get a real terms increase in funding. Capital spending will be cut by 60 per cent. Educational maintenance grants are to be replaced. The outlook for post-16 provision is worrying. The further education resource budget will be cut by 25 per cent and the vast majority of public funding will be removed from universities. The true damage to education will only become clear as details emerge over future weeks.

The Education Secretary’s rhetoric at the Conservative’s Conference was about trusting teachers. This was undermined by telling teachers what to teach: a list of authors for English Literature lessons, including Dryden, Pope and Swift; history lessons that tell “our island story” and stop the “trashing of our past”; and exams “every bit as tough” as those “in Massachusetts, South Korea or Singapore”. A White Paper will set out the Government’s vision for schools and an Education and Children’s Bill will follow.

Of course, as the Education Secretary said teaching quality is key to raising standards: “inspiring the next generation to learn depends on great teachers” with “high expectations of every child”. That is everybody’s aspiration: not the monopoly of the Education Secretary. But it doesn’t depend on the class of a degree, and it requires more than rhetoric. It requires good initial training, first class continuing professional development – and it costs!

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