Education took centre stage at the Labour Party Conference with not only a strong speech from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner but also significant comments relating to PSHE education from the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson – as well as Jeremy Corbyn’s reiteration of the pledge for a National Education Service in his speech.
In her speech, Angela Rayner restated the importance of Early Years and announced Labour’s pledge to reverse the £500 million cut to the Sure Start programme.
“To give every child a fair chance to succeed, we need to give them the best possible start in life. . . . . . . Free, high-quality early education, universally available for every 2-4 year old, and extra affordable care for every family, saving them thousands of pounds a year. So our children will be ready for school.”
These are promising words, especially when you look at the rest of the National Education Service proposals for schools, including;
- Fairer funding formula for schools
- Trust in the professionalism of teachers
- Democratic accountability
- Introduction of free school meals for all primary school children
- Abandon plans for baseline assessment
- Commitment to continuous assessment
- Ending public-sector pay cap
- Introduce teacher sabbaticals and industry placements
- Extension of school-based counselling
- Embedding SEND into initial teacher training
- Restoration of the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year olds
Read the National Education Strategy document in full here.
She went on to say,
“Education informs. It inspires. And it empowers. Because knowledge is power. I know that from my own life. We must ensure that power becomes the right of every person, whatever the circumstances of their birth. . . . . That means giving opportunity to all, with a guarantee of lifelong learning, whenever they need it.”
Education informs and knowledge is extremely important, but so too is the ability to empathise, to understand your own personal skills, qualities, ambitions, to know how to socialise, to understand shared values, to develop your physical skills and intelligence, to manage emotions and understand feelings.
For too long, our politicians have concentrated on a “standards agenda” that has only partially educated generations of children and young people. Millions have missed out on their entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum, inclusive of a positive PSHE programme and Life Lessons.
Knowledge can and does empower. But so too does the ability to collaborate, to create, to think for yourself, to rationalise, to consider the needs of others and yourself. These are the elements of learning that have sadly been missing for too many children and young people – a contributing factor to the horrendous increase in childhood depression.
We obviously welcome Labour’s commitment to more funding for mental health but universal preventative measures are also needed, which is why we’re also pleased to see a commitment to continuous assessment, thereby potentially reducing the impact of high-stakes exams on the wellbeing of our youngsters. We’d like to see a further strengthening of a commitment not only to PSHE education but to a pledge to include this vital part of learning in Initial Teacher Training.
Tom Watson talked about “fear” – a destructive emotion that has been so prevalent in the world of education – directing teachers, headteachers and young people to take a course of action, i.e. perpetual drilling for the A* or “9” grade, in a manner that many see as detrimental to the wellbeing of teachers and pupils.
Fear breeds fear, and the fear of being named and shamed in performance tables should never be the reason for adopting any education practice – which simultaneously ignores the wellbeing of all.
On fear, Tom Watson said,
“It’s fear of strangers behind this Government’s callous treatment of EU citizens living here. It’s with the peddled fear of economic ruin that they justify their cruelty to our nurses and teachers, our armed forces and our police officers. It’s with fear that they hammer our poorest and most vulnerable . . . . . . fear is a powerful force . . . . . Jeremy told this country that we don’t need to be afraid. That another way is possible. That living in fear is not inevitable: we can choose to live in love and hope instead.”
In his speech, he discussed the need for a diversification of opportunities for young people to prevent income inequality.
“But I know not everyone’s as lucky as me. More and more are being left behind by an economy that serves the few, not the many.
Today’s choice for too many young people is precarious employment or no employment, a zero hours contract or no contract, shabby, dangerous, soul-destroying work, or no work at all. Income inequality in Britain is amongst the highest in the developed world. Inequality between those with fulfilment and security in work, and those without it is growing too.
This is a stain on our country. . . . . .
[But] A time for change is upon us. The old fear is gone.”
He also talked about the problem of gambling and addiction, something that could and ought to be addressed in a carefully constructed programme of learning for PSHE – as should the impact of destructive emotions such as fear on our wellbeing.
Life for many of our children and young people is extremely hard. The recent statistics on mental health are alarming and we’ve gone on record many, many times about the need for a serious, concerted preventative strategy as an integral part of learning in school.
We hope that the proposed National Education Service will put three-dimensional learning at its core – “universal, free and empowering”, yes but in a way that enables learners to become emotionally intelligent, socially intelligent, physically intelligent, spiritually intelligent as well as intellectually stimulated through their academic and vocational achievements.
We’re delighted by the amalgamation of the NUT and the ATL unions, providing a strong voice and leadership for the profession. It’s timely that the amalgamation comes in the same month as this pledge for a universal National Education Service.
Ignoring the unions has been the cause of many educational problems over the last few decades. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, embraces the hope in his statement about the National Education Service here.
“This Charter is a ray of light, illuminating the possibilities for a new education system, after years in which schools and colleges have experienced a narrow curriculum, a punitive system of accountability and a lowering of educational horizons.”
Rays of light have been sadly lacking in education.
Here’s to a more enlightened future.