If the Labour Party is serious about beating the Conservatives, it needs to present a clear – and distinct – alternative.
On Saturday, This Blog published a piece saying politicians should stop over-managing schools and teaching – this would be a good place to start.
Tory education policy is rubbish. It is all about giving the best possible start to the children of those who are already over-privileged – using money belonging to the masses wherever possible.
So you get privately-owned academies and ‘Free Schools’ eating up our money while state-run schools lose out.
Tory education policy calls for learning to be a chore. Michael Gove wanted to force children to learn their facts by rote, rather than by discovery. No thinking required – for a population the privileged want compliant and unquestioning; and a bad reputation for anything associated with education.
Tory education policy calls for teaching to be a nightmare, with restrictions on how it is to be done and then constant monitoring of achievement – so not only are teachers prevented from using the best practices, they are also attacked for failing to get results using the substandard methods available to them.
Labour’s best choice is simple: Remove the restrictions. By all means set targets – to be met or, preferably, exceeded – but then leave teachers to do what they have been trained to do. Stop staring over their shoulder. Take the money out of management and invest it in resources instead.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject: Labour should end academisation and reabsorb those schools – and ‘Free Schools’ – into state-run education. And privately-owned and run schools that claim charitable status should lose it. They are not charities; they’re businesses.
Have I missed anything?
Clearly, Labour must and will play a leading role in the battle over grammar schools but it needs to do more to appear a credible alternative. There is a growing chasm between politicians and the public, in education as elsewhere. What should be a shared national agenda of higher standards for more children has turned into mistrust and friction, no more so than in the relationship between government and teachers. Any sense of shared purpose and joint endeavour has given way to weary suspicion.
Politicians talk of a revolution in our schools but the passion, creativity, excitement and possibility that underpin any revolution have given way to the language of data, targets and threats. I am a fully signed up supporter of targets and data but these are hardly the things that enthuse me – or I suspect many others – about education. Ministers talk about the number of six-year-olds who have passed the phonics test or the number of free schools in the pipeline as though they were ends in themselves. Political discourse seems disconnected from what inspires parents, teachers and children about what they think should happen in our schools.
Labour must respond to this. It has to revisit the purpose of education policy, encouraging debate and consensus about what we value and expect from our schools; it must offer leadership in aligning policy with the view that education should be broad, rich, exciting, demanding, rewarding and fun.
Labour’s education spokeswoman, Angela Rayner, should resist announcing new policies at first and instead talk about what a national education system should be trying to achieve. Let people know Labour still believes that an education without the arts and creativity, sport and literature, is no education at all. Remind people that the party has always understood the barriers that can hold some people back and has a history that shows how they can be overcome. And acknowledge that the relationship between teachers and government is not what it should be and that it will change.
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