Yesterday we were asked the following question on Twitter by @corbyn50plus, in response to a remark about education:
“What do you think Labour can do besides oppose Tory policy?”
It’s an important question. For years it’s been pointed out that the difference between Tory and Labour policies on education is negligible. “Driving up academic standards” is the mantra, with no real consideration of the implications of this policy for the wellbeing of students, and teachers, and parents, or even for the all-round achievements of our young people.
Converting schools to academies, centralising control and getting rid of local governance of schools, marginalising local education authorities, imposing policies without consulting professionals (something that David Blunkett admitted was his greatest failing as education secretary when prompted at the Festival of Education at Wellington College), constantly tampering with exams and tests, narrowing the curriculum, removing the independence and professional integrity of teachers to decide what is learned and how it is taught, inflicting bureaucratic insanity on a profession already exhausted and demoralised by the imposition of political interference, ignoring the wishes and experiences of young people, sanitising schooling to be nothing more than experience of exam factories – dismissive of the fact that there’s a multitude of skills, attitudes, values, abilities and intelligences that are effectively ignored in this “drive” to improve education provision.
It’s idle to blame only the Tories for the current state of education. The problem for Labour during the coalition years was that they were politically stymied from opposing Tory policy because they’d laid firm foundations for Gove, Osborne, Morgan and Cameron to build their particular vision. Gove granted himself ridiculous powers in his role as Secretary of State for Education – and Labour offered no alternative of any substance.
The folly of quietly accepting legislative change is now apparent. However, the response and opposition to the forced academy diktat from George Osborne has been significant – to the point that there’s a very real possibility that this is going to be a second major policy U-turn from the chancellor’s budget this year.
But it’s the alarming statistics on child wellbeing that ought to be at the forefront for policy makers in the Labour Party right now.
The education system, as it stands, is damaging very many children and young people. It’s ignoring the ability of at least 50%, of them, as has been admitted. It’s downgrading the skills of many as insignificant – those who find their element in making, designing, creating with their hands and their imaginations. It’s forcing young children to study certain aspects of numeracy and literacy with no reference to recent neurological discoveries about rates of development. It’s wholly dismissive of key intelligences – other than intellect – that are integral to learning how to live and work well – collegiately, innovatively, imaginatively, independently.
So here’s a few starting points for Labour to consider if the party is going to do more than merely oppose Tory plans.
|1. Consult with professionals. This ought to be patently obvious but paying attention to those who actually work in education will help develop far more appropriate education policies, based on actual need rather than politically motivated priorities Take a look at the Compass/NUT report on Education – written by educators after a long process of consultation with educators.|
|2. Review the aims and purpose of education. The academic outcomes for young people can be vastly improved and are far more sustainable if young people feel well, safe and secure. The real aims of education should be to develop the whole child – which is not about “driving up” academic “standards”.|
|3. Focus on learning rather than what is being taught. Instilling a lifelong desire to learn has to be a major aim of a productive and successful education policy.|
|4. Broaden the purpose of education to include a realistic and substantial dimension on wellbeing and equipping young people to be emotionally intelligent.|
|5. Consider friends in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. The CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and other business organisations have been saying for a very long time that our education system is not fit for purpose and not providing businesses with young people equipped with skills for life and for employment.|
|6. Review your own 2015 election education documents. (There were some good ideas that didn’t make it to the manifesto) There was also a decent speech by Tristram Hunt in 2015 to ACSL.|
|7. Look at other countries – and not just the usual suspects of Finland and Singapore (though obviously do this too). Bhutan has a commendable framework for education with some transferrable philosophies and aims.|
|8. Consult with young people and act on it. “Every Child Matters” came from young people. Its broader focus was lost in the “standards” agenda. It’s worth a significant review.|
|9. Look at the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child as a starting point for policy development.|
These are merely starting points. As with many other Labour policy changes, there has to be a dramatic rethink if we are going to plan effectively for an education system that is fit for purpose for the 21st century child.
We need to reformulate and reinvent education in England rather than reform a deeply flawed system. The Labour party needs to be part of a rethinking process that offers an alternative to the outdated mode of education that’s irrelevant or insufficient for the needs of children, young people, teachers and society as a whole.
There is so much more to do than merely oppose.