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Schools Blog

Challenges and Opportunities with the new Coalition Government


Introduction

Everything changed in May of this year. We had a new government with new emphases and new directions. Nowhere was this felt more keenly than in the area of education. Whilst the detail of policies are still being worked out and a white paper on education not due until the Autumn at the earliest, it is useful to reflect on the implications of the many changes that are in the pipeline for Christian schools work.

Cuts

Probably the most immediate change is fuelled by the need to make significant budget cuts. It is likely that these will be in the region of 20% for the newly formed Department for Education. But these are being made now, and between September 2010 and March 2011 we will see the impact of these at the chalk face. The cuts will fall in a number of areas. The new school building programme will stop – and the ramifications of that will probably not be felt for a number of years. It is highly unlikely that more money will be made available for extended schools, especially as all schools were meant to be fully extended by September 2010 anyway. Staff numbers will reduce, probably by a reduction in the number of teaching assistants though teachers on temporary contracts may find them hard to renew. There will be less money available for study support and extra curricular activities such as trips etc.

This means that the student experience could be diminished considerably, both in and outside the classroom. However, at a recent meeting in the Houses of Parliament MPs told schools workers that ‘now was their time’. It is very likely that schools will be looking to re-enforce connections with the third sector, including faith groups, in a bid to sustain existing service provision. Organisations like YFC are well positioned to help schools at a strategic level to maintain a wide range of services, from study support, through classroom activities and work with those at risk of exclusion. We just need to be ready with programmes and skills at hand.

Free schools and Academies

The move to 'parent power' and the growth of Academies has been a flagship policy for the new government. However it has not been met with a great deal of enthusiasm by many. It is anticipated that there will be a growth in new schools and that the funding that follows them will be to the further detriment of existing schools. There are concerns over what will be taught and by whom. Certainly the educational landscape may look very different. It could be argued that more schools could mean more opportunity. Many of the new schools will be run by Christian groups and as such have a real need for Christian youth work input. That may be the case. However, these new schools will have new freedoms particularly in the area of curriculum. This may mean a move away from faith-based values and input for many. Head teachers will have even greater choice over visitors and the values they represent.

What is clear is that the value of Christian schools work input will need to be proven to these new schools. That will mean that we will need to work hard at relationships. It will mean we will have to have evidence of the impact and benefits we bring to a school either in terms of affecting behaviour or improving standards. I suspect it means that we will have to adopt a more professional approach to our vocation. Certainly there is talk of payment by results for those working alongside schools and if this does transpire then results will need to be logged and proven.

Teaching and learning

The new emphasis is on improving teaching and learning. The government wants to free teachers to teach by ridding them of some of the additional duties that have been imposed over the past few years. The duty to promote community cohesion and the responsibility for pupil well-being will fade. The government is not saying that these issues are not important but that they are properly the responsibility of others such as parents and community leaders.

The reality is that for some schools these agendas will remain of vital importance, as by caring for well being and promoting community cohesion they will be assisting in creating a positive learning environment.

These are areas for which the church was created. Christian schools work can be the means by which these former duties can be fulfilled in a school. Again it may mean a rethink of what we have to offer; a reworking of our resources. But time will prove this to be a real area of need in the future.

The Big Society

The underlying ideology of much of this policy is the concept of the 'big society': a society free from state control that cares for and provides for the needs of its members. Volunteering becomes something that is valued very highly and the voluntary sector assumes a central role in society. The more cynical critics see it as social care for free. The fear mongers talk about a dumbing down of services and the danger of interfering amateurs, unqualified to work creating havoc. Whatever the view you take, the reality is that, with massive cuts being imposed, the big society becomes a necessity.

I am not sure whether Christian youth workers in schools will ever be seen as a necessity but there is clearly an opportunity for their value to rise – especially if they can show themselves to be both qualified and professional in approach.

National Citizenship Scheme

When David Cameron introduced his idea of a national citizenship scheme by talking of the shame of wasted lives he was making a political and social statement. This government would like to see all 16 year olds undertake 2 months of community service - one week outward bound and seven weeks working alongside community groups doing something of value. The scheme is described as a rite of passage into adulthood.

Again we may or may not accept the ideology but here is a challenge to rethink schools work. Already within YFC, plans are in place for residentials for schools – can this concept be expanded further to accommodate what the government wants in its week away? Already in YFC we have produced with Tearfund a DIY guide to community work in the excellent "Express Community Through School"; a resource recognized by civil servants of being of immense value. Can we begin to adapt to programmes outside the classroom as well as within the four walls of a school?

Qualifications

The push for higher standards continues. There has been no indication that this will change. If, as is indicated, schools should be getting rid of their under achieving teachers it is highly unlikely they will be encouraged to take on unqualified workers at the same time. Certainly play work qualifications for all workers running after school and holiday clubs have once again been pushed by local authorities as the qualification of choice, and as this applies to all under 16s it makes sense to look at this as an option for the future. Similarly, the qualification for higher level teaching assistants (HLTA) is highly regarded and accepted nationwide for those working in a classroom setting. This is the type of qualification that will be needed in the future for those taking a lead in schools work and YFC and other Christian organizations need to be in a position to respond.

Curriculum

The National Curriculum will change. It will become less prescriptive. Teachers will be allowed greater freedom and creativity. At the moment we are not sure what this will look like. How will it affect RE? Will there still be a protected place for Christianity? Only time will reveal the answers here. The likelihood is that increasingly it will be a local issue. SACREs may become more or maybe less important. Opportunities may disappear in some places and increase in others. Whatever the change there will be a need for quality resources to be used whatever subject is taught.


Conclusion

These are very early days. This article contains a mere glimpse at policy and possible implications. The one clear lesson we can take from it all is the need to be prepared. We need to be clear in our vision, sure in our ability, confident in our resources and flexible in our approach. We cannot rest on our past achievements rather we must build for a future where YFC is seen as a key component in the life of a school and its community

Submitted by Nigel Roberts at 8:06am, 9th July 2010