This year’s Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture was given by Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary for Education. The meeting took place in the Houses of Commons Committee rooms.
Before summarising the meeting – lecture and questions, we would like to mention two things.
Firstly, I would recommend a visit to the Houses of Parliament. We wish there was more open access to the place and whilst it certainly shouldn’t be a privilege to go to a place that essentially belongs to the public, it is, for me a special experience. As someone who is deeply interested in history and politics, it is quite mesmerising to be in a place where the very law of the land that affects us so deeply, has been decided and agreed. Many argue vociferously for smaller government and greater autonomy at a local level, but a national parliament has a significant role to play. People do need support and guidance, and laws do have to be made. The issue is that in so many cases, such as education, the governance is held by politicians who don’t – some by their own admission – have the expertise in the field to truly understand the implications of what they are trying to enforce.
Government needs to ensure that every child is given a right to a quality education through, for example, a national admissions policy, and an infrastructure that ensures that quality education is provided to all. One could also argue that it is the government who should ensure, as much as possible, that every child has equal access to that quality education, irrespective of their place of birth or residency. The shocking statistics that were discussed last night regarding the plight of children in our seaside towns is a terrible indictment on the rights of each and every child to receive a decent education.
Furthermore, there needs to be a national determinant on how state schools operate, and this should not be divisive, placing schools in competition with one another.
Secondly, it is worth mentioning Caroline Benn herself. For a greater insight into her life, please read the Guardian Obituary in the link below.
…………………. In 1964, Tony and Caroline Benn decided to move their children from Westminster preparatory school to Holland Park comprehensive school, one of the first in the country. From then on, Caroline, who was to become the chair of governors at Holland Park for 13 years (and, at 35 years, the school’s longest-serving governor), devoted a great deal of her time and energy to the subject of comprehensive education.
She was president of the Socialist Education Association, co-founder of the Campaign for Comprehensive Education and a member of the Inner London Education Authority (1970-77). With Professor Brian Simon, she wrote Halfway There (1970), a report on the British comprehensive system, and she followed it up with another co-authorship, with Professor Clyde Chitty, on the same subject, Thirty Years On (1997)……………..
Caroline was dedicated to the equality of education that we mentioned in the paragraph above. She was vehemently committed to comprehensive education, and strove throughout her career to influence and commend comprehensive education as the most just, equal and purposeful education for every child. Her book, “Halfway There” has a prophetic resonance because, although it was written in the infancy of comprehensive education in the 1970’s, we are still only half way there, and sliding backward with the introduction of academies and free schools, and all that these regressive policies bring in creating a two-tiered system of education – or three tiered if we include independent schools.
The Labour Party is currently developing their model of a curriculum that is steeped in values based education; all of which is highly commendable and we are looking forward to being involved in this at the earliest opportunity. However, there still needs to be some clear decisions made by the party as to how they are going to deal with the Academies situation, what they are going to do about the interference from politicians in education and pedagogy and how they are going to tackle the thorny issue of an education system that has become a “teach to test” system – especially if they are unwilling to see the role of league tables in bringing about this catastrophic direction of education in this country.
Stephen Twigg’s lecture can be read in full on the link below.
A further blog will review a personal summary of this speech and inform readers of questions asked at the end of the lecture.