Dear Secretary of State,
As you start your new role as Secretary of State, ATL would like to invite you to share the wealth of experience and professionalism that our members have across all phases of education. ATL represents 170,000 dedicated and ambitious professionals who share a vision for a world class education system.
As a new government forms we want to take the opportunity to say that education matters. We want to work with you to implement education policy which will raise educational standards and promote teaching positively. ATL has a vision for an education system fit for the 21st century and workable alternatives to current policy developed through our members' experiences in schools and colleges.
These are difficult times for young people. Despite the improved employment picture overall, analysis from the House of Commons Library earlier this year shows that 16-24 year olds are three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. Where they are in employment it is more likely to be insecure, low-skilled and low-paid.
I believe that you will face a number of key challenges in your new role.
Cuts in funding for further education (FE) have left colleges reeling. Amalgamations of colleges, and closure of courses have led to fewer options for young people to stay in education, and the cuts to the maintenance allowance has left many unable to travel the greater distances to access any remaining provision. I am extremely concerned that the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) is likely to increase, and that this will impact on those young people's life chances. I urge you to commit to protecting the budget for FE colleges.
Cuts have also led to loss of professional staff in colleges. FE teachers are unique as they are dual professionals combining both technical and teaching skills, but many are now finding that they must leave teaching and return to their technical employment if they are to make ends meet. This is an immense loss to the profession, and to the education of young people, and is increasing the workload of those who remain. Unless you can address this issue, the crisis in FE colleges will impact on those young people who are most disadvantaged, including Black and Minority Ethnic young people who are much more likely to access FE as a way of getting back on track.
Another key cause of increased workload has been the ever-more punitive inspection system. ATL has consistently made the reasoned argument that fundamental change is needed to Ofsted, and our views have commanded widespread consensus from a range of commentators and education professionals. We have gone further, and made very clear our proposals for a new, peer-led, supportive and rigorous system in schools.
I invite you to read our vision for inspection, and to discuss with us how we could work together to make this a reality for colleges too.
The previous government's investment in apprenticeships is to be welcomed. However, the focus on increasing the number of apprenticeships has come at the expense of guaranteeing their quality. You will need to ensure investment in developing a sustainable model of apprenticeships, and holding providers accountable for their quality, if you are to improve the economic prospects of young people and of the nation as a whole.
Reform of qualifications will hit young people hard. New end of course, timed, written exams will assess only a tiny proportion of the learning that young people have done, and will tell employers and universities very little about the expertise and knowledge that young people have acquired. New grading methods will cause huge uncertainty for students, parents and employers. I am extremely concerned that your period as Secretary of State will coincide with a huge increase in young people failing to achieve their potential.
All this is happening at a time when the advice and guidance young people need to understand their choices and to make the right decisions for them has been hollowed out and fragmented. I urge you work closely with the Department for Education to invest in a national, face-to-face careers guidance system that will be accessible to all young people, and particularly the most vulnerable.
Our members believe that an entitlement to high quality training appropriate to their current career stage and professional aspirations is the best way to achieve a selfsustaining education system which will provide the most effective education for children and young people. ATL is strongly committed to professional development for all education staff, as we demonstrate through our own successful CPO programme. I urge you to review qualifications, training and professional development for teachers in FE.
I recognise that you will be operating within severe budgetary constraints. I am extremely concerned about the impact this will have on colleges which have already cut to the bone.
Above all teachers want to be treated as professionals. They want the agency to be able to determine their own work and the safe environment to try out innovative approaches to teaching.
We can meet the challenges facing the education sector better together because our members have, over the course of the coalition government's term of office, shared their knowledge with ATL about how coalition education policies have impacted on students' experience and the profession's status - and predicted the recruitment and retention crisis for FE teachers, particularly the shortage of teachers for English and maths.
I hope that you agree that we can meet these challenges better by working together.
Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary
You can also download a PDF of the letter here.