Labour has a chance to change the nation’s thinking on education. What should it do?

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner should ‘resist announcing new policies at first and talk about what a national education system should be trying to achieve’. [Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty.]

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner should ‘resist announcing new policies at first and talk about what a national education system should be trying to achieve’. [Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty.]

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.

Source: Conservative education policy is in chaos. This is Labour’s chance I Estelle Morris | Education | The Guardian

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12 thoughts on “Labour has a chance to change the nation’s thinking on education. What should it do?

  1. Christine Cullen

    You missed one thing Mike. To forget the grammar school “myth” and stop acting on it. There is copious evidence to prove that Grammars damage the education of the non grammar school pupils, do not enhance the education of their own pupils any more than a good Comprehensive would, and many of them encourage an elitist attitude in their pupils.

    1. Jt Zoonie

      It should get people to have a platform they can learn from. This must be a worldwide thing otherwise nothing is learnt. Example look at Japan. They lead the world in inovatitive tech. And have done for years

    1. Jacqui Killick

      china and japan have very different people… I saw a tv programme where a Chinese maths teacher came to teach our kids, who had no discipline, did not respect their teacher and acted out at every opportunity… The Chinese teacher simply could not cope with this, she said her method of teaching, which was shown later in the programme, was to call out instructions and pupils wrote it down … chalk and talk style …. no questioning, what the teacher said was law almost.. and pupils just wrote down. the Chinese teacher failed miserably to teach our kids.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        Bear in mind that what you’ve just described is a failure of the British system, as well as the Chinese teacher.

  2. Mervyn Hyde

    We could also start by asking what is education for?

    Where are all these high paid jobs?

    The truth is there are none, and the government is blaming their failure to deliver on teachers.

    The majority of children are designed to fail, they are not needed in the big picture, which is why the Tories only concentrate on the few.

    Too many well educated people will become a problem in a dysfunctional society. They would work out what the real. game is all about.

    People need to start thinking and look at creating a future based on jobs created by government in the interest of people, the capitalist system is currently destroying jobs and that is why they don’t need education for the masses.

    The future relies on People’s common sense or we will suffer under the great American Dream like in the USA and poverty will drive us into an even greater abyss.

    Education is important but only if it teaches people to think, privately educated rote learners have got us where we are today, and cover themselves in lies and deceit.

  3. Proud European

    It would be great news to see Labour stripping not only ‘charitable’ schools but ALL greedy and sanctimonious ‘social enterprise’ businesses (many of which are, not coincidentally, workfare mills) of their charitable status.

    The public perception is that ‘charity’ still means what it says on the tin. At one time, something like 75% of a Registered Charity’s profits had to directly benefit the needy, but this is no longer the case, and just about anything, from educating the pampered progeny of the rich, to chain-gangs of the sick and disabled, qualifies as a ‘social enterprise’.

  4. Christine Bergin

    Might be a start to give some sincere respect to the people who actually do the teaching and listen to their views. Would help to stop private education having charitable status for Tax advantages as well.

  5. Barry Davies

    It’s a shame labour still is following the political dogma that actually reflects the tory economic model of an alleged trickle down effect, we have schools for special needs i.e. those who are not able to learn as quickly, but for the educationally gifted those who can learn faster we throw up our hands and claim unfair advantages so instead place them in a situation where they will get bored and possibly not attain their potential.

    The rich will continue to send their children to private schools, that will never end because the politicians send their children to them, but the abolishing of the grammar schools took away a pathway to a better future for middle and working class children simply because of marxist ideology that has the incorrect notion that everyone can be equal, as the pigs in animal farm so aptly said everyone is equal but some are more equal than others, and as Stalin is supposed to have said capitalism is man’s oppression of his fellow man but under communism it is the other way round.

    Whether it was the brain dead idea of non competitive sport or non competitive education the bottom line is life is not fair life is competitive and to try to pretend otherwise at a young age is sending the wrong message.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Please show me where the Labour Party states it is following any “trickle-down” dogma.
      Your comment about gifted youngsters being denied the chance to get ahead suggests the exact opposite, as “trickle-down” theory supposes that giving huge further advantages to those who already have them will benefit those who don’t – and you’re complaining about a claimed denial of those advantages.
      Grammar schools have not been abolished; the rule at the moment is that no new grammars will be created.
      All the evidence shows that they do not provide a “pathway to a better future” for middle- and working-class children because they accept only children from richer backgrounds (and those on scholarships, as I understand it).
      Your comment about Marxist ideology says more about you than the Labour Party.

      1. Barry Davies

        No Mike The tory claims that if those at the top make more money the benefits trickle has been shown to be false, just as the idea of having a mixture of gifted and non gifted children helps the non gifted, it does not, but it does damage those who are gifted. Comprehensives may look good on paper or on a socialist manifesto but in reality they help no one. The nonsense of accepting only people from richer backgrounds is nonsense the grammar schools took on who passed the 11 plus your families economic position had nothing to do with it, I came from a very working class background and passed whereas several fellow pupils from more wealthy land and shop owning families did not, it was based on your capacity to earn not the cash in your pocket. Having then gone to a full grammar followed by a streamed comprehensive then a full blown comprehensive I know which was better for my education. Grammar schools were abolished thta is why these days the grammars are as you describe them for the rich kids, the true grammar schools help those at the bottom of the pile and those gifted children from working class families, Two other examples are my cousins one who went to Oxford one to Cambridge one became a Don without grammar schools is it highly unlikely they would have reached that position.

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