Exodus If It Wants To Improve Schools, Heads Warn Hundreds Of Millions Head To Polls On Final Day 2024

Hundreds of millions of voters are heading to the polls on Sunday for the European Parliament elections, which are expected to shift the assembly further towards radical and far-right ideologies, potentially reshaping the continent’s future.

Voter Turnout Across Major EU Nations

Voters from key EU member states, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland, are casting their ballots on Sunday, marking the conclusion of a four-day election cycle that began in the Netherlands on Thursday. This is the first European election since Britain exited the EU, with voters set to elect 720 lawmakers to the world’s only directly elected transnational parliament.

Expected Outcomes and Shifts in Power

Opinion polls indicate that while mainstream, pro-European groups are likely to retain a majority, their influence may be significantly challenged by the surge of nationalist and far-right parties. These groups are projected to gain a record number of seats, altering the balance of power within the parliament.

Growing Influence of the European Parliament

Historically viewed as a talking-shop, the European Parliament has gained substantial legislative powers over the past two decades. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) now collaborate with national government ministers on various EU policies, including climate action, artificial intelligence, workers’ rights, and farm subsidies. Additionally, the parliament will play a crucial role in deciding whether Ursula von der Leyen, the German centre-right politician, will secure a second term as European Commission president, a position of significant influence in European politics.

Major Political Groups and Their Prospects

  • European People’s Party (EPP): Expected to remain the largest bloc, maintaining around 176 seats.
  • Socialists and Democrats (S&D): Anticipated to hold onto second place with approximately 139 seats.
  • Renew Europe (Renew) and Greens: Predicted to lose seats due to weakened national parties in France and Germany.

National Dynamics and Electoral Challenges

Germany

Germany, which will elect 96 MEPs, sees the Greens losing ground. As part of an unpopular coalition government led by Socialist Olaf Scholz, the Greens have faced backlash over domestic climate laws. They are expected to lose some of their current 25 seats, which could diminish their broader influence in the European Parliament.

France

In France, which will send 81 MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg, President Emmanuel Macron is trailing behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Le Pen’s party is expected to dominate the polls with a larger lead than in previous elections. This could lead to the centrist Renew group, heavily influenced by French MEPs, losing its traditional third place.

Rising Far-Right Influence

The nationalist and hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists faction is poised to gain traction, bolstered by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Her Brothers of Italy party is projected to triple its vote share, at the expense of her coalition partners, the far-right League.

While Le Pen has suggested forming a nationalist “super-group” with Meloni, analysts predict Meloni will favor a smaller, more cohesive right-wing group that can collaborate with von der Leyen’s commission. Despite the anticipated record return of 165 MEPs from nationalist and far-right parties, their influence may be diluted due to their likely distribution across multiple groups.

Watch on Hungary

Observers are closely monitoring whether Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will align his Fidesz MEPs with a right-wing alliance. Fidesz, holding 12 seats, has been without a political home since leaving the centre-right EPP in 2021 amidst concerns over Hungary’s authoritarian tendencies.

Alarming Data on Teacher Turnover

Recent government data reveals a disturbing trend: last year, nearly as many teachers left the profession in England as those who entered it. According to the school workforce census, 44,002 teachers joined the profession in the year leading up to November 2023, while 43,522 left. Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, described these figures as a “shocking indictment of this government’s record.”

Labour’s Recruitment Pledge

Labour has committed to recruiting 6,500 more teachers, funded by increased taxes on private schools. However, Kebede noted that this promise equates to just one new teacher for every four schools, which falls short of addressing the sector’s needs. He called on Labour to establish an independent commission on teacher recruitment and retention if they win the election. Kebede emphasized the urgency, stating, “When we have the largest class sizes in Europe and we are losing this many teachers, we urgently need a new direction.”

Worsening Subject Shortages

The shortage of teachers, especially in subjects like maths and science, has now extended to traditionally stable subjects such as English. Schools report that subject specialists are leaving for less stressful or better-paying jobs, making it increasingly difficult to find replacements.

The Impact of Overwork

Will Teece, headteacher of Brookvale Groby Learning Campus in Leicester, highlighted the severity of the crisis. His school has had to re-advertise some teaching posts multiple times without finding suitable candidates. Teece explained that excessive workload is a primary reason teachers are leaving, as it negatively impacts their personal lives. “They are looking after other people’s children and not spending any time with their own,” he said.

Improving Teacher Retention and Morale

Jonny Uttley, chief executive of the Education Alliance, suggested that Labour could improve the situation without significant financial investment by promoting the teaching profession positively. Research consistently shows that workload is the biggest issue driving teachers away. Uttley recommended changing the accountability regime, such as eliminating high-stakes Ofsted inspections and the Progress 8 performance measures, to reduce stress.

Labour has indicated plans to replace single-word Ofsted judgments with report cards, which could foster a more constructive professional dialogue about school improvement. Uttley remarked, “Ofsted is a ridiculous game and drives so much stress. If you remove single-word judgments, it can become a professional dialogue with schools about how to improve.”

Reviving Successful Programs

Ministers have been criticized for worsening the teacher recruitment crisis by cutting funding to successful programs like Now Teach, which helps older workers transition to teaching. Lucy Kellaway, the journalist-turned-teacher who runs the scheme, called the decision to cut the program “absolutely mad” and expressed hope that Labour would revive it.

Conclusion

Addressing the teacher retention crisis is crucial for Labour’s plans to improve education. By focusing on both recruiting and retaining teachers, and making strategic changes to reduce workload and improve morale, Labour can make meaningful strides toward enhancing the quality of education in schools across England.

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