On Tuesday 11 July the Fabians held their afternoon tea at the House of Lords. Before the event they held a meeting on Education where Estelle Morris and Angela Rayner outlined Labour’s strategy on how to win support for the party’s educational policies.
The present Conservative Government is managing to destroy coherence in many aspects of Education, with different arrangements and policies. There are now all sorts of different arrangements involving schools, which include Free schools, Academies, and all-age schools. Local Authority control is now disappearing, with its duties being taken over by either individuals, interest groups, or alternative organisations. Schools no longer have to employ qualified teachers or deliver the national curriculum. Children no longer have to live in the locality and their ages can vary from school to school.
If anyone had written, a few ago, an account of how this would be happening in the UK they would have been laughed out of court, but is still occuring. What the speakers called for at the Fabian meeting was a National Education system which included Early Years, post sixteen education, including Further Education Colleges and Universities, and a skills agenda for everyone. What the Labour Party should now do is set up an inquiry into how we should be educating the next generation for the future.
The speakers reminded the meeting that the setting up of new Grammar schools was not going to happen and even Tory ministers are coming to the view this would be unpopular and a mistake. Many Tory MPs and Councillors continue to oppose Grammars, including in places like Hampshire and Sussex. There are also serious staffing problems in many areas of the country, where many teachers are seeking to leave the profession.
A surprise in the General Election was how Education became a key area, with many young people turning out to vote against increased fees for University and protests about the withdrawal of the popular maintenance grants for less well off 16-19 year olds. These were abolished by Michael Gove within days of the Conservatives coming to power in 2010.
Gove also ended the popular 14-19 Vocational Diplomas before the first results were announced. It turned out that many young women had don e very well in subjects such as Engineering and Construction. Employers were very supportive of the Diplomas and their abolition has left the curriculum very much out of date.
The Labour Party would gain considerable support by backing reform and being clear that it aims to be the party of Education and Skills, and that this sector needs to be properly funded and managed.
One area that needs much more clarity is who is now actually responsible for deciding Education policy and how it is delivered. Free schools and Academies are not delivering a coherent system of education and Labour would earn support by listening to people such as the Fabians on how we should set up a system which has the same high standards in all schools and Colleges. The role of Local Government needs to be clearer and it should play a key role, which needs to be properly defined.
The Labour Party should be exposing the folly of the present Government’s policies. Education is one of the decisive areas of policy could help decide the result of the next General Election. It is interesting that organisations like the Fabians are increasingly involved in developing an Education policy for the Labour Party.
It will certainly be a key issue at the next General Election and it would help Labour, as the last election did, if young people can see how their vote would make a difference to their lives. The debate should also involve employers, especially in discussions over the skills needed. School Governors, too, could play a crucial role.
The high attendance at the Fabian’s Tea Party provides an excellent example of the reasons why Education should be a key priority for Labour.