ONE OF the hot topics of the elections – education – was the focus of a hustings organised by the National Union of Teachers in Oldham.
Saddleworth Independent editor Aimee Howarth attended to hear what each of the Oldham East and Saddleworth parliamentary candidates had to say on their party policies and answer questions from the floor.
Candidates present were: Debbie Abrahams (Labour), Richard Marbrow (Liberal Democrat), Miranda Meadowcroft (Green Party) and Peter Klonowski (UKIP). Apologies were given by Sajjad Hussain (Conservative Party).
First question: Do you think there should be a qualified teacher in every classroom?
Mrs Abrahams says yes and it is a pledge in their Labour manifesto. She adds nearly 1/2million children are taught by unqualified teachers. Labour would support them through qualifications.
Mr Marbrow says yes but other have to be brought in to gain experience too. He adds it is a pledge for Lib Dems too and they want to address free schools.
Ms Meadowcroft questions how they are qualified and wants more teachers to learn extra skills, such as British Sign language. She says a balance needs to be found for teachers with training, jobs and home life. She adds any investment in education is money well spent.
Mr Klonowski says it seems logical to do so and get the best education for our children. He wants to access how mature teachers can get additional qualifications as they often find it harder to do so.
Next question: Do you agree with issues with trade unions such as a 40% threshold on trade union members voting for strike action?
Mr Marbrow says there should be no artificial quotas or forced strike action due to political influences.
Ms Meadowcroft says there is strength in numbers but people should go for what they believe.
Mr Klonowksi says teachers are being dragged down by other unions but need to get their messages across a bit better.
Mrs Abrahams points to the recent successes of tribunals and workers rights. She adds she has worked for the Oldham Fairness Commission. She adds far more should be done to encourage and support trade unions and teachers as individuals.
Next question: What do the candidates think of academies and free schools and their provision of education?
Ms Meadowcroft says ‘we have a problem locally with the schools’ and levels of exam results. She says Green Party is concerned about getting schools involved in community. Adds free schools aren’t working in Oldham and need to change. She says children are over-assessed and teachers are over moderated.
Mr Klonowksi says he thinks academies aren’t working in Oldham and he has letters from parents who don’t want their children to go there. He adds free schools are often poorly set up and poorly regulated.
Mrs Abrahams says 1 in 3 free schools is under-performing and needs to be addressed. She says ‘outstanding’ or well performing schools are often favoured. Labour pledge to scrap free schools. Mrs Abrahams says damage of academies should be stopped along with free schools.
Mr Marbrow says there are inequalities between children depending on what schools they go to. He adds local government could have more influence and power over better schools in their areas.
Next question: Should schools have a responsibility to tackle forms of discrimination?
Mr Klonowksi says it is hard to categorise phobias but extremism should not be in schools. He adds faith should be kept at home. Mr Klonowski adds we should tackle all discrimination in schools not pick certain ones.
Mrs Abrahams says there is increasing hate crime across the community and schools are important to promote equality, tolerate and respect. She says we are richer from the diverse community we have in Oldham. She admits her own experiences as a mixed race family are not always easy. She says people are not born racist and that is down to society.
Mr Marbrow says we shouldn’t blame others for problems and no groups should be marginalised or targeted.
Ms Meadowcroft says Green Party believes education should start at age 7, with community cohesion and values focused on before that. She adds things like homophobic bullying in schools should be looked at with help from local services.
Next question: Why do teachers leave within 5 years of qualification and what can be done?
Mrs Abrahams points to the increasing workload pressures, size of classes, changing curriculum problems which need to be looked at. She says Labour will make class sizes smaller, settle the curriculum and bring in a better inspection process to support teachers.
Former teacher Mr Marbrow says working conditions in schools need to be better, pay needs to be looked at and progression opportunities. He says ‘being respect back into the teaching profession’ but it won’t be easy to do with a single, simple solution. He says it would be nice to have someone from the state system to have a voice in parliament to represent the majority of country.
Ms Meadowcroft said there should be more support for teachers with mental health illnesses not pushed away with no support. She adds teachers aren’t paid enough and should be respected more.
Mr Klonowksi says UKIP would enforce smaller class size and reduce OFSTED inspections. He says pupils and parents should respect teachers more.
Next question: Would you support proposals to end tests of 4-year-olds and Key Stage 2 SATS and leave assessment to the teachers?
Mr Marbrow said four-year-old should be left to be children. Permanent decisions shouldn’t be made too early on in education or set in stone.
Ms Meadowcroft says Green Party think academic education should start at 7. She questions purpose of testing so young or marking children as failures. She says purpose of education should support development as well-rounded people to improve confidence.
Mr Klonoswki says UKIP want to abolish KS1. He wants children to love learning and admits he didn’t concentrate at school.
Mrs Abrahams says research shows predictions can be made at age 7 but not younger. Should be balance between teaching for jobs and for society. She says education is life-long and comes in many forms. She reveals she left school aged 15 and went back later on.
Mr Marbrow says school league tables create problems with recruitment and parent choosing them. Tests should focus on pupil progression.
Final question: What are the candidate’s views on education funding?
Ms Meadowcroft says money spent on private companies should go on children’s educations.
Mr Klonowksi says there should be more funding for all.
Mrs Abrahams says early education should be protected and benefit from funding.
Mr Marbrow says Lim Dems will provide an extra £2.5billion for education to improve nationwide.
NUT president thanks candidates and members for attending the hustings.