Today, the UK will be presenting a Voluntary National Review (VNR) of its progress towards achieving the SDGs at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLFP).
In this blog, Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), explains how, whilst the UK’s VNR presents a rosy picture of rising standards in education, many important challenges remain unrecognised.
Just over a week ago, the UK government launched its report – known as the Voluntary National Review – on the Government’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the fifth largest economy in the world with a high per-capita GDP and a strong democratic governance structure, I would have expected the Government to be well on track towards achieving the SDGs domestically. Yet I am hugely disappointed. What the review shows is that the Government is failing to protect the poorest and most marginalised in our society and that it has not lived up to the promise of the SDGs in terms of leaving no one behind. The sad reality is that the education system in England limps along, haemorrhaging teachers and suffering loss after loss in funding.
The Government states, in the report’s Executive Summary that ‘the UK has a strong story to tell domestically on many of the Goals including……high and rising standards of education, including putting inclusivity at the heart of education policy, supporting the full potential of learners of all ages…’, totally ignoring the realities which education professionals are facing every day.
Increased poverty in schools is having a devastating impact on children and young people. Holiday hunger, child poverty and rough sleeping have also increased, with more and more families having to resort to food banks.
Devastating funding cuts have gone hand in hand with a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Education professionals are facing huge workloads and generally in the labour market workers with disabilities have seen a real term income loss. There is vast income inequality within academy chains and stagnant social mobility. Reports of hate crimes have risen and there is continued discrimination against black and minority ethnic teachers in schools.
If the Government is serious about achieving the SDGs, then it must, as a matter of urgency, address all forms of poverty in the UK by critically evaluating the implications of Universal Credit, responding in full to the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations on poverty in the UK and abandoning the work-centric approach to poverty reduction. Child hunger, including holiday hunger, needs to be tackled. Funding cuts to education should be reversed, delivering a fully funded 5% pay increase for all teachers and funding for further education increased as a matter of urgency.
The issues of teacher workload and attrition must also be addressed, and action taken to reverse the worrying trend in inequality and growing income inequality. At the same time, the Government must commit to engaging with individuals and communities affected by hate crime to better support their needs and tackle the issue.
If the SDGs related to education and social justice are ever to be met, the UK must now recognise that many challenges remain. It’s time now for the Government to re-evaluate current progress and reset its course.
In 2015, governments committed to achieve inclusive, equitable, quality education for all by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 4, SDG 4). Four years later, the world is severely off track to achieve the goal. This mini blog series illustrates some of the many obstacles to the achievement of SDG 4, from the point of view of teachers and education support personnel.
Further information and a copy of the NEU’s response to the Government’s report can be found here.