Education 2015 – a progressive agenda for the General Election

On 8th April over a hundred people packed Committee Room 14 at the House of Commons to talk about the kind of education policies they want to see on offer at next year’s election. The meeting was hosted by Kevin Brennan MP (Shadow Schools Minister) who introduced the session.

The keynote speaker was Peter Mortimore, former Director of the Institute of Education and author of “Education under Siege”. He began by saying “we want a new government to challenge the cosy consensus that politicians have more or less got it right and that their ideas, right-wing, ideological, neo-liberal ideas are the only show in town”. He went on to present a challenging analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of English education and some radical proposals for change (see the reference to his presentation below). His challenge to the politicians was “that political parties seem to lack the courage to really challenge many of these big ideas. They’re doing their best but they seem to lack the courage to go the full hog and really challenge and say “This is not the way that we want our society to develop. This is not the way that we want our education system to serve it.””

Everyone present was then invited to identify their personal priorities for education policy after 2015. A lot of people made verbal contributions and everyone left a written summary of what they wanted to see happen. The result was a remarkably consistent set of messages which were brought together at the end of the conference by Kenny Frederick, former Headteacher of George Green’s School in East London.

What people were saying can be summarised like this:

1. The National Curriculum should be what it says – a curriculum for all children in all English schools. It should be an entitlement, as originally promised, broadly based, balanced and with clear room for creative and imaginative subjects and personal, social, health and relationship education.
2. Inclusion and equal opportunities need to be at the heart of education provision. This is about SEN and disability but it’s also about meeting the needs of all kinds of children.
3. A fair admissions code should operate for all schools in a geographical area and should be implemented by a locally elected education service. No school should be its own admissions authority.
4. All schools should have the same responsibilities and powers and receive funding according to a common formula that enables them all to fulfil their responsibilities on an equal basis.
5. All schools within a clearly defined geographical area should co-operate and share best practice with the support and guidance of a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service. Educational planning and service delivery that meets the needs of all children resident in an area requires a properly resourced service locally based and with good local knowledge. Best practice should also be shared between education services.
6. The inspection and monitoring of English education must become supportive and be capable of focusing on school improvement when necessary. Standards should be agreed through a national consultation process and inspectors should be trained to help schools attain them.
7. All front line staff in children’s education should have qualified professional status. Continuing professional development should be an entitlement for all staff and those currently without qualified status should be given appropriate training to obtain it.

These then are the issues we want to see at the heart of the 2015 election campaign. All the evidence is that current government policies have little public (see the ICM poll in the Guardian this week) or professional support. We hope there will indeed be politicians brave enough to challenge the “cosy consensus” and to develop an agenda for a truly democratic, inclusive and high quality education service.

There is a sound recording of the meeting together with Peter Mortimore’s presentation at http://www.pickingupthepieces.org.uk/conference.html

The meeting was organised by the Reclaiming Education Alliance which is made up of the Socialist Educational Association, the Campaign for State Education, Comprehensive Future and Information for School and College Governors

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7 Comments on “Education 2015 – a progressive agenda for the General Election”

  1. Richard Hatcher says:

    This is a good short statement of a progressive manifesto. But it is weak on two key issues which if they are not tackled will leave in place two pillars of Gove’s project of irreversibly undermining state education.

    One concerns academies, and in particular academy chains run by private organisations. Why are they not mentioned? It should be a matter of principle that no Labour government would continue to allow these private organisations, many of them now publicly discredited, with no local democratic accountability, to own and control state-funded schools. And there is no legal problem in removing academies from the chains (as Gove has demonstrated by stripping E-ACT of ten of theirs at the stroke of a pen).

    The other issue concerns local authorities. The statement uses the phrase ‘a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service’, but avoids the term ‘local authority’. Why? It looks like a concession to the pressure within the ‘education establishment’ to marginalise LAs in favour of a new ‘middle tier’. If a ‘local education service’ is meant to mean one not part of the rest of elected local government then say so – but it would result in separating education from other services affecting children, young people and families at a time when they need to be more integrated, not less.

    The statement ends by saying ‘We hope there will indeed be politicians brave enough to challenge the “cosy consensus” and to develop an agenda for a truly democratic, inclusive and high quality education service.’ Hardly a vote of confidence in Tristram Hunt and the Labour leadership! The problem is, if they don’t sign up to these policies – and I would bet that the force of reason won’t be enough to persuade them – what is the plan B? The fact is that only a public country-wide grassroots campaign involving parents, teachers and everyone else is likely to exert enough pressure, which means that the Reclaiming Education Alliance organisations need to get out of London, organise local meetings and set up local groups in alliance with activists already on the ground.

  2. David Pavett says:

    I have exactly the same concerns as Richard Hatcher and I am grateful that he has made the points so well.

    I attended the meeting and was heartened by the Peter Montimore’s speech and most of the contributions from the floor. In that speech he complained of “a systematic reduction of local government responsibilities” and said “I don’t remember a public debate” about this. Rather local authorities have been “slowly stripped of money and stripped of responsibilities”. He further expressed the hope that David Blunkett’s inquiry report would “build on local democracy”. I have no doubt that in saying this he had the sympathy of the meeting. It is therefore something of a disappointment to find this being watered down to some undefined and nebulous ” a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service”. We have local government. Let’s defend it, strengthen it and improve it.

    The educational elephant is academy chains. Not to oppose them explicitly is a big mistake. Again, I have no doubt that this would have had the ascent of virtually everyone at the meeting.

    I suspect that the problem is not the sentiments of the meeting but the political sensibilities is organisers in wanting to influence Labour by toning down the message to what they think might be acceptable to Labour leaders.

    On this I agree again with Richard. The hope expressed that ” there will indeed be politicians brave enough” to take up the points made is hardly a vote of confidence in Tristram Hunt. But the hope lingers that if we are reasonable enough and don’t press him too hard on issues that we know to be essential, he will listen. All the evidence is against this approach and the hope that we are in a situation of genuine dialogue with Labour is no more than an illusion. It may be hard to live without such illusions but ultimately they can only lead to disillusionment and disappointment.

    P.S. I object to the demand for ” clear room for creative and imaginative subjects”. All subjects are areas for creativity and imagination. If it does not seem like this then they are badly taught. If, as I guess, what is meant is arts subjects then say so. Maths is no less creative than dance. We should not perpetrate the pedagogically damaging idea of non-creative subjects.

  3. brumcase says:

    Reblogged this on Campaign For State Education.

  4. Terry Loane says:

    It is with sadness, David, that I have to agree with you that the idea that there can be genuine dialogue with Labour politicians is “no more than an illusion”. And indeed we need look no further than the behaviour of Kevin Brennan in last week’s meeting for evidence of this. In his blog post John Holt says the meeting was ‘hosted’ by Kevin Brennan. But what sort of host is it who leaves before the end of the party? Now this is not a personal criticism of Kevin – no doubt he had another engagement to attend. But it has been my universal experience in recent years that elected politicians who attend conferences/meetings are happy to talk at the audience but they never stay to listen to what the audience has to say. (They hardly ever even take questions.) If Kevin’s time was limited, then the meeting agenda should have been rearranged so that he was able to hear the contributions from the floor.

    Both Peter Mortimore (in his presentation) and Richard Hatcher (in his comment above) make important points about democratic accountability. We need to make politicians realise that a key aspect of this accountability is for them to say less and listen more.