Teachers ask children to ‘tell the truth’. Voters would like the same from the Tories | Michael Rosen

I don’t know what you did wrong, but the Conservative party team seem to have been be working hard to keep you off our screens as you all seek re-election. That’s a pity. I was looking forward to seeing you answer questions about such things as the expansion of grammar schools, the chronic underfunding of special needs provision and the just-as-chronic underfunding of school buildings maintenance.

I was also hoping to see fact-checkers get to grips with whatever justification you might come up with for the academy and free schools programmes: just how much has it cost us, with what proven levels of success?

Your party’s manifesto tells us you are going to “back heads to use exclusions” to implement “discipline”. I’m not confident that decisions about exclusion are being made solely on the basis of benefiting students and teachers. Are you sure some schools do not see it as a way of benefiting a school’s position on the local league table?

In the fine tradition of the bland leading the bland, you’ve promised to “create more good schools”. That doesn’t look like a promise to create better education for all. The proven way to do this was the pioneering London Challenge programme put in place by Estelle Morris and Sir Tim Brighouse. Perhaps deep in the heart of your party, a commitment to “for all” went absent without leave some time ago.

I see you’ve found a bit of pocket money (£110m a year for three years) for the arts in schools to “enrich activities for all pupils”. Is this a joke?

The arts aren’t glitter. They offer pupils ways of exploring the world, materials and themselves through experiment, invention and open interpretation. Your department seems stuck in the era of chucking a few pence at schools to pay for a potter’s wheel but not for a kiln for the pots to be fired in.

One of your jargonistas has been at work on primary school PE teaching, talking about “physical literacy”.

Some years ago, some policy wonks in the building you work in turned “literature” into “literacy” and in a stroke made it less necessary to talk about what excites pupils about books. Now I see the “literacy” octopus has taken over running, jumping and climbing. Far be it for a book-freak such as me to admit it, but one of the exciting things about PE is that you can spend time not “doing literacy”.

You’re promising £1bn on “boosting childcare”. Hello, factcheckers – is that a billion in fresh new money, or old money already allocated somewhere else? But if it will really help parents with childcare over the summer holidays, I welcome that.

My tone of caution about facts derives from your porky-esque figure of a total £14bn extra for school funding. I think you have been warned against using that figure and that you should revise it down to £7.1bn a year. You know that thing where teachers ask pupils to “tell the truth”? Same goes for parents and ministers: we’d like you to tell the truth please.

Very welcome is raising teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 and this, the unions tell us, may go some way towards encouraging recruitment to the profession. We parents like it when our children have classroom and subject teachers every day, every week, all year. This is not something all of us enjoy at the moment.

If they let you loose on telly, I guess your minders will tell you to say that you’re going to improve things without implying that they’ve been crap for the last nine years when your party has been in power.

Yours, Michael Rosen


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