What we want from Labour’s Policy ForumPosted: July 10, 2014
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.