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So where does Labour stand on: Education (part 2)

Agenda 2015 EducationThis is one of a series of posts which focus on the outcome of Labour’s policy review, as agreed by its national policy forum.

In the the first part of these notes on the outcomes for education of the July meeting of Labour’s National Policy Forum I considered how different views on the role of local authorities fared. In this second part I will consider three more key questions in the same way.

Topic 2. The 11+ examination

Selective schooling in the state sector is closely associated with the 11+ examination (rather than ability to pay as in the private sector). This is a problem the Labour Party has struggled with since 1946. The first postwar Labour education minister (Ellen Wilkinson) was a strong defender of grammar schools. Harold Wilson said that they would only be abolished over his dead body. Today it is a topic that Labour prefers not to talk about. Accordingly, Education and Children and the Blunkett Report are silent on the issue. Nevertheless two amendments proposed the abolition of the 11+ and this call had sufficient support for Tristram Hunt to feel the need to present an argument against it.

His argument against abolishing the 11+ was overtly not one of principle. Rather, the case was that there were marginal constituencies in Kent which, it was claimed, might be lost if this were in the manifesto. As far as I can tell, no research was produced to show the degree of this threat or even that it actually existed. The assumption was simply that some people who might vote Labour would not do so if Labour made clear its will to end selection. There was no estimate of the votes that might be lost to Labour of people dissatisfied with such a lack of commitment to a genuinely one-nation Education policy. Finally, no thought was given to the way in which Labour might campaign in such areas on the basis of providing excellent schools instead of a selective system which undermines that aim.

The final consensus wording condemned the 11+ as harmful but made no commitment to do anything about it. The proposal in the submitted amendments that

One nation Labour will end the premature judging of children’s abilities and abolish the Eleven Plus exam.

Became, in the final consensus wording

Academic selection at 11 damages education for all children and is not the best way to give all young people the best start in life.

This suggests to me that the whole issue will be ignored in the manifesto.

Topic 3. Faith schools

Education and Children said nothing about faith schools. It was felt to be sufficient in the Blunkett Report simply to say that

The historic settlement with faith groups, diocesan authorities and foundations has stood the test of time.

A number of amendments sought to end what their proposers saw as the divisiveness of having schools devoted to particular belief systems and called for all state-funded schools to be fully inclusive by being without religious commitment. The final consensus wording on this issue was

Labour will ensure that all schools including free schools, academies and faith schools serve their local communities and follow the admissions code so every child has fair access to schools.

Topic 4. Ofsted

Education and Children and the Blunkett Report were entirely positive about Ofsted and even about its Head Michael Wilshaw. This contrasts markedly with the view of the teaching unions and widely expressed views of teachers.  Eight of the submitted amendments were critical of Ofsted and variously called for it to be abolished or reformed, or for a commission to evaluate its work. Twickeham CLP, for example, proposed that

Labour will replace our current method of inspection under Ofsted with a supportive system that works in collaboration with local authority advisors as well as the wider community.

In the consensus wording of the Endorsed amendments it was accepted that

… this Government’s attempts to politicise Ofsted have undermined the integrity of the Schools Inspectorate. National systems of inspection and accountability should be collaborative, rather than confrontational. Too often, especially in primary schools, Ofsted can have the effect of narrowing the educational experience of young children.

To this a statement, which would be hard to pin down to anything specific, was added:

Labour believes the role of the Schools Inspectorate needs examining

Rapid survey of other issues

Much of what was agreed merely repeated what was already Party policy or were in the draft document Education and Children (the subject of the amendments): Labour belief in the Sure Start programme was reaffirmed – with the proviso that Labour would assess Sure Start practices; The “philosophy” of Every Child Matters was said to be still relevant but that the approach to its implementation needed to be updated; Private schools must justify their charitable status by doing something charitable; schools will offer wrap-around provision which will help working parents; Labour rejects the “sink or swim” approach to school improvement; the careers service should be revived and improved; academy chains should be inspected (not just the schools in them); Labour will provide 25 hours of free child care (for 3 and 4 year-olds); it will also “examine” the best way to provide a youth service in every local authority area.

There is much in the Endorsed Amendments which is difficult to interpret in terms of a commitment to do anything specific. Thus it is said that Labour will ensure that early intervention for babies and young children will be “properly funded”. The “importance” of the Disabled Student Allowance is “recognised”. “Reasonable adjustments” are promised for mainstream examinations and assessments to make them accessible for disabled learners. Labour believes in “sustained investment” in further and higher education. It will also will “look to ensure” that adult and career development courses are as effective as possible. Labour promises to “dramatically increase” the number of apprenticeships provided (which is strange because the Adonis Report contains some very specific proposals).

There are also “commitments” to do things which are really not a matter of choice because they are already required by existing regulations or codes of practice. Thus there is a promise to ensure that all new school buildings have disabled access. There is another to build into Ofsted inspections the requirement to provide a “broad and balanced curriculum”.

There were clear commitments to the following: all school staff should receive disability training; raising the level of qualifications of childcare workers; full-time FE courses must include at least 12 hours of face-to-face tuition (sounds low to me); not to sanction any new grammar schools (nothing said about the expansion of existing ones); no more free schools (but will sanction parent-led academies which look rather similar); limit HE tuition fees to £6000 and probably introduce a graduate tax.

There is also what looks like a commitment to national pay and conditions negotiations:

We recognise that having a fair, consistent national pay system for all teachers is important in retaining and recruiting well motivated teachers. In addition, appropriate pay, training and professional development of school support staff is critical for school improvement and should be at the heart of a more collaborative approach.

If one is prepared to accept that to “recognise” national pay negotiating as “important in retaining and recruiting well motivated teachers” as a clear commitment to introduce such negotiations then things couldn’t be clearer. The trouble is that the Endorsed Amendments also have

We continue to support national pay bargaining, and will keep under review any moves from nationally agreed terms and conditions.

which rather muddies the waters. If national pay and conditions are to apply to all state funded schools then how would there be “moves from” the agreed terms? It could be that this is a reflection of the difficulty of dealing with so many areas of policy in a few hours over a three-day period. Or it could be that the commitment is not what it appears to be. Light is likely to be shed on this, in the coming months.

Note on Community Trusts. The Blunkett Report is enthusiastic about the community trust model for schools – without ever explaining what it entails. This enthusiasm is reflected in the final consensus wording (although hardly mentioned in the submitted amendments). I don’t have the knowledge required to go into the implications of this for a democratic education service but questions have already been raised and it is clear that further analysis is required.

6 Comments

  1. PoundInYourPocket says:

    “It is the Government’s declared objective to end selection at eleven plus and to eliminate separatism in secondary education. The Government’s policy has been endorsed by the House of Commons in a motion passed on 21 January 1965”
    Well maybe one day we’ll get there…

  2. Chris says:

    Jeez, you guys are naive. Warsi isn’t being attacked because of her sex and religious identity.

    She’s being attacked because she’s gone against the right-wing dogma on Israel.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Wrong blog!

  3. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I have attended a County Council audit meeting wherein a Councillor questioned the year end balance sheet. 125.5 milllion losses in the assets column was noted.
    It was confirmed that this represented the loss of school property in the county. It was confirmed after questioning that title deeds and assets of school property are handed over with no compensation whatsoever to the public purse.
    A council official says it is something they have got to do, a government directive I suppose.
    My concern is that with school property outside public ownership, will the next step be say, teachers salaries, the curriculum, the right even to a free quality education become outside of the public and democratic domain?

    1. Robert says:

      Gove and Hunt is it little wonder we are in a mess.

    2. David Pavett says:

      That’s a really good question Sandra, and it is the sort of thing I had in mind when I wrote the not on Community Trusts at the end of my piece.

      The number one authority on legal aspects of academy conversions (and remember that legally free schools are just academies) is David Wolfe. I can’t see anything on the property issue on his website so I am going to write to him to ask if he has done something on this.

      However, I am sure that your council official is wrong about some kind of government directive to transfer public property out of the public sphere. The government document on land transfer discusses all sorts of possible arrangements including what I believe is a common one of leasing the land to the converted school for 125 years on a peppercorn rent. I am not a lawyer and I do not understand everything in this document. I must admit that when I read

      “If the academy wishes the academy trust to have the freehold interest on conversion, the Secretary of State will use his powers under Schedule 1 of the Academies Act 2010 to direct that the land currently used for the purposes of the school (and held by the governing body) is transferred from the existing governing body directly to the academy trust”.

      The document adds that in such cases there must be various conditions in the Funding Agreement including “clauses protecting the public land from disposal (e.g. being leased or mortgaged) without the Secretary of State’s consent”.

      That’s already confusing for me and this stuff really needs a legal expertise from someone who wants to protect public property. The confusion is widespread and given that hundreds of academies have already broken the terms of their Funding agreement plus the lack of understanding of council officials I think the whole thing is likely to be something of a dog’s dinner.

      As I say, I will write to David Wolfe. If I make serious headway in understanding the issues I will write a piece for Left Futures on this. I would much prefer it, though, if someone with legal training were to take on the task.

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