With teachers leaving the profession and with the number of vacancies rising quicker than staff are trained to fill them, are we heading towards a crisis? This was the issue facing one of the pannel debates at this years Conservative Party Conference. It is clear that the current state of British education is dire and the governments fixation on Grammar schools seems to suggest they are looking in the past, lacking fresh ideas and perspectives.

Yesterday we attended the NUT and ATLs forum on the current state of education and it sounds a tad desperate. Quoting a recent statistic from a survey done on school governors, only 12% were happy with the way government is handling school funding and structuring, with their primary worry being money…

This is no surprise for a sector which is receiving 8-12% in cuts and is one of the most confusing in existence… to quote Dr. Mary Bousted, the ATL Union general-secretary, who said while on the panel ‘local authorities are in charge of providing education to the community, but can’t build schools’… it is a catch 22 scenario. With councils being unable to build, schools being over subscribed due to the lack of being unable to be built by local authority.

On top of this, 11% of teaching staff take retirement early due to stress as teaching is one of the professions that relies on stuff doing unpaid overtime. The amount of paperwork often required by management meant that teachers would need to work overtime to cover work load, but can’t be paid for this overtime due to funding shortages. This leads to teachers at times doing as much as 70-80 hour weeks!

The debate did then taken an absurd twist as an audience member asked, since now we spend roughly 5 times more on education than in the 1950s, why hasn’t education gotten 5 times better. Disregarding the fact that the pound (like most currencies) has depreciated over time, one can see other issues with such a statement… another panellist did mention that in the 50s most of the money only went to teaching staff and the infrastructure, with little checks and balances taking place. In today’s world Ofsted provides checks and balances to ensure teaching is kept at a high standard, one of the many new duties taken up by the Department of Education in recent times. This has meant that naturally the department would spend more.

The issue of Grammar schools was also raised. As mentioned often Grammer schools seem to be the tory answer to the growing issue of talented kids being left behind or unchallenged. Dr. Bousted mentions that the primary issue with Grammar schools and selection in general is that often it is a test of a parents commitment and wealth, not a child’s brilliance and intellect.

She justifies this by stating that often before sitting the 11+ exams which judge if a child is fit to go to a Grammar school, parents that can will often employee a tutor to help them succeed. Indeed it is statistically proven that children that pass highly at their 11+ are mostly due to them having a tutor as opposed to unique brilliance and skill. Naturally, poorer children will be unable to afford help and therefore will be in a handicap when applying to the schools, increasing the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. This seemed a sentiment that most in the room agreed with as Ed Dorrell, chair of the debate and Deputy Editor of the Times Educational supplement, did a flash poll of the room showing that most disagreed with selective education and hence, Grammar schools.

The debate ended up on an oddly positive note with the chair asking all on the panel, what they would like the department of education to cut, which showed that all the panel agree that the department of education needs to finally streamline what they are doing and begin focusing on what is important, ensuring that we don’t hit a crises where by we can no longer provide quality education to the next generation because we have forced all the best teachers out of the profession due to a lack in funds or stress. We have given more money for security, renewed trident… surely we can spare a little more teaching the very people we insist we are trying to protect.