What we want from Labour’s Policy Forum

In a couple of weeks’ time, Labour’s Policy Forum will meet to consider the outcomes of the party’s policy review that has been running now for a couple of years. Quite what the relationship is between the material produced by the elected members of the forum and a wide range of specialist reviews is unclear. A lot of the latter have been published recently – in the education field the Blunkett and Husbands reports and in related areas reviews on various aspects of local and regional devolution. In many cases they make the policy forum papers seem rather dated and insubstantial.

Setting aside however the arcane mysteries of the process, SEA is pushing for the Forum to adopt some key changes to current proposals. Our fundamental premise is that:

“Education is not only about economic success. It impacts on the whole of our lives. …The next Labour government will need to provide the conditions for every child to flourish and have a full and rounded education…. Labour should build a one-nation education system where children of all backgrounds have access to the full range of educational opportunities. School should be a place where children learn to get on with one another. We cannot speak of a truly one-nation school system so long as children attend different institutions on the basis of their ability, their parents’ wealth or religious beliefs.”

Getting to this point will be neither easy nor quick. But a clear sense of direction is essential.

On specifics, we believe that the curriculum needs to properly reflect these broad aims. . We endorse the conclusions of the Husbands Review on the 14 to 19 curriculum but we think that Labour needs to say more about the rest of the school curriculum. We see no logic in a National Curriculum applying only to some schools. Nor do we believe that the whims of passing politicians should determine what is taught in our schools. The curriculum should be less prescriptive but it should recognise the place of skills, values and personal qualities as well as knowledge. And it should apply to all schools.

We believe that the current system of inspection needs radical reform. The top-down, punitive model has had its day and is a big reason why teachers’ workload is becoming intolerable. Fear of Ofsted is stifling innovation and focusing attention exclusively on the few things that Ofsted tries to measure. Moreover the process is too cumbersome and inconsistent to be effective. We need a new model of bottom-up accountability driven by peer review and local scrutiny by people who know their local patch.

Trying to run thousands of schools from the centre is a model that has clearly failed. It’s widely accepted that local decision making needs to be restored. SEA is clear that key decisions need to be made by democratically accountable bodies. If there are to be Directors of School Standards, as the Blunkett Review proposes, they must be properly accountable to their local communities. And we absolutely cannot have our schools handed over to be the play thing of Tory party donors.

It is time too to end the culture wars between academies and maintained schools. This has been massively wasteful both in money and in time and energy. It means there are two systems for doing everything with the result that nothing is being done very well.

“We believe that Labour should ensure that all schools have the same rights and responsibilities. In some areas this will mean increased freedom for all schools but it will also mean requiring all schools to adhere to key national expectations. This will include, for example, not employing unqualified teachers and adhering to national agreements on pay and working conditions. All schools will be funded through the same locally agreed funding formulae within a common national framework so that no school has a financial advantage purely as a result of their form of governance.”

We believe that Labour needs to be prepared for government. That is a lesson we should have learned from Michael Gove. Warm general statements won’t be enough. It’s not wrong to put a lot of stress on vocational work and on young people who won’t be going to university. But it’s not enough if we really do have the ambition to create a one nation education system.

2 Comments on “What we want from Labour’s Policy Forum”

  1. David Pavett says:

    Labour’s Policy Review was launched in November 2010. It has therefore not run for a “couple of years” but for over three and a half years – almost the entire period since Labour’s defeat in 2010. Ed Miliband declared at the outset that it would be a “root and branch” review of Labour’s policies. In the nearly four years since that was said I am not aware of a single policy which can in any serious sense be said to have been “reviewed” i.e. the pros and cons for previous policies being evaluated. That has certainly not taken place in education.

    As John says, that the relationship between specialist reviews and the review is unclear. However, I cannot see that there has been a “wide range” of such reviews in education. As far as I know there have been two: one led by Husbands and one led by Blunkett. These reviews in no way attempted to take into consideration well-known and well-documented contrary views among Labour members, let alone those expressed more widely. Their range has therefore been anything by “wide”. Not only that but they have been delivered towards the end of the process leading to the NPF meeting and beyond the point when most Party members would have been able to deliberate on them. Neither has there been any serious attempt to encourage informed debate on their contents. As a democratic process the highest praise one could make of this is “shambolic”. The reality is, I suspect, rather worse than that. The review process shows every sign of being manipulated to give the results that the apparatchiks, career politicians and policy wonks wanted to get from it irrespective of what views the membership may hold.

    I agree that “… the current system of inspection needs radical reform” but the Labour policy documents have nothing but praise for Ofsted and its head Michael Wilshaw. Why is that?

    Labour makes much of the non-viability of running all schools from Westminster but this is an argument with no real bite. Everyone knows this is not feasible in the long term. The Tories have recognised this by creating Regional Commissioners for schools. Labour has proposed instead Directors of School Services, but the principle is basically the same: a government approved “independent” official, independent from local authorities would determine where and when new schools should be created and who would run them. In both cases the fundamental assumptions are that a school system should be run on the basis of diversity of provision, independence of schools from local authority planning and finally, parental choice. Market ideology dominates both approaches.

    It is obviously true that schools need the freedom to innovate and work out their own solutions to general problems. However, they need to be part of a system and that should, as John says, include “adhering to national conditions on pay and working conditions”. Of this there is not the slightest hint in the Labour policy documents. Why is that? Stephen Twigg committed Labour to this but since his demise there has been no mention of it.

    I am not sure what to make of “It is time too to end the culture wars between academies and maintained schools”. If it means that it is time to bring all schools into the framework of local democracy then I agree. But is that what is meant? This is an issue which requires the utmost clarity.

    Finally, let us not use expressions like “one nation education” unless they have real meaning. If they do not then they serve no purpose other than to hoodwink the naive. Labour proposes nothing that would end the separation of children into different institutions for the formative years of their lives, on the basis the division between private schools and state-funded schools, between faith schools and non-denominational (but legally Christian) schools, between grammar schools and the rest and a host of other divisions. There is no way in which the phrase “one nation education” can, in these circumstances, be considered as anything other than a rather poor joke.

    Labour’s draft policy documents are singularly lacking in any significant influence from the powerful critique of Gove’s reforms that have been developed by progressive educationalists and campaign groups over the last four years. It is not enough to hate the Tories and to be tribally Labour. Labour’s draft documents make no attempt at a critique of what Labour got wrong in government. They reflect just about nothing of the detailed criticisms developed by educationalists of education under the Coalition. What will the NPF make of this? It’s difficult to say but past performance is not encouraging. On the other hand the reality denial of Labour’s leaders on issues such as the need for the public ownership of the railways might be just enough to create a serious reaction against the manipulation of party policy in which the NPF has in the past allowed itself to be complicit. I’m not holding my breath but the forthcoming NPF meeting just might be worth reporting. We’ll see.

  2. morehead says:

    Dear John,

    I have outlined my educational life that claims personal success in the what I have done met the real needs of students at all ages.

    I add that a teacher who faced the loss of a job in her subject area was recruited to fill a gap in the Business Studies are that I ran with three staff. When we came together to agree the grading of students she said she had never thought that this “student centred” approach could be so meaningful. After parents night she said that she never thought that teaching could be so rewarding.

    Even though I have had most rewarding experiences in education due to the success of the range of students many people in the Labour Party have dismissed the successful examples that could be a significant way forward for communities and thereby the country.

    As a Petty Officer radio electrician in the Fleet Air Arm I was detailed to teach radar to new entries. Have established where each individual was I sets steps to take them where they needed to be. Approval came from the officer in charge.

    After holding a number of management situations as Chief Petty Officer I was detailed to set up a new equipment teaching laboratory with a team of three. The same approach as before was set up and the result was an increase in serviceability in the Fleet Air Arm the won me a Herbert Lott award.

    Following gaining a degree in Business Studies in my last year in the Navy I completed a mature students teacher training course at Durham. The head of education said that the approach met the needs of students in an ideal way.

    Tom Corner, the head of Woodhouse Close school at Bishop Auckland employed me on scale 2 head of department. Shortly after schools merged I got a bigger job at St. Bedes at Peterlee.

    The local NUT made me education advisory secretary and put me onto the management committee of an examination board. Here I chaired a subject committee and grading committees. At the reform of the examinations system I placed the agenda in the hands of the teachers on the committee. After the trial five Tyneside schools had pupils explain how they had got their results to the great and good in education. The government said it had failed and we ended up with the current system. In my department we found ways of running a student centred way of working that increased the staying rate considerably.

    I was elected to the executive committee of the Northern TUC who placed on the management committee of Tyneside Training and Enterprise Council. From there I played a significant role during the setting up of NVQs that led to the government representative advising us to apply to run a project.

    The project Lifelong Learning in the Workplace I placed in the hands of trade unionists who identified more work than a shop steward could do and “invented” the Union Learning representative. The project runs on as UNIONLEARN.

    I have been retired for 21 years but still try and promote learning situation that enable students to learning the game and not just to take penalties.

    It would make a change if the Labour Party talked with and not at teachers and others.

    I hope that you can look at students current positions and enable people to set steps that take them where they need to be.

    Best wishes

    Bill Morehead

    33 Brompton Walk


    DL3 8RT

    01325 4689770