Thursday, 10 May 2012

Consultation: Labour Party Education Policy Review

Following on from a wide-ranging policy review from his predecessor, the new Shadow Education secretary, Stephen Twigg (former chair of the arch-Blairite Progress faction) is seeking contributions to a further review of the Labour Party's education policy.

Andy Burnham, his predecessor, met the NUT Executive last year, and was keen to engage with our views. While we might not have agreed with everything in his policy review, there were encouraging signs, including on the role of Local Authorities:
"We need to look at ways to devolve power to local areas; to make our school system genuinely responsive to the communities it serves. There must be a better way to respond to parental concerns about schools than to suggest they open their own school. Governors are part of the answer, and so is Ofsted. But so are Local Authorities."
.. and recognising the potential dangers of the rapid expansion of Academies and Free Schools. (During his campaign for the Labour leadership, Andy was the only candidate to talk about celebrating our community comprehensive schools- which was my main reason, as a Labour Party member, for casting my first preference vote for him)

Stephen Twigg, however, shows signs of wanting to change course yet again. He talks about "no return to Town Halls running schools" (seeming to miss the point that, since Local Management of Schools was introduced more than 20 years ago, this hasn't been the case !)   The talk about the need for a "middle tier" to cover the Academies and Free Schools is welcome, but he seems to rule out any role for democratically elected local authorities. Bizarrely, the document seems to imply the Academy Chains are a form of middle tier- accountable to whom ??

You can access the consultation document here- and make individual submissions. You may also want to raise this with your Association or Division, and make a representation collectively. The consultation is open util 10th July.

If you are a Labour Party member, it is especially important that you have your say: you can also raise your ideas and concerns via your branch or constituency, and through the regional representatives on the National Policy Forum.

There is scope for getting our point of view heard in this consultation. The Socialist Education Association- an affiliated society to the Labour Party notes, in an article on their website by John Bolt that:
"The document presents itself as a pragmatic one, interested in what works best. But at its core are some fundamental issues such as:
  • the massive democratic deficit that is building up in our system
  • the need to balance the freedom to innovate with necessary local accountability
  • the fact that individual decisions by schools and parents can have consequences for other schools and parents and so some planning is needed to protect everyone’s interests.
These are critical issues and it’s a pity that the consultation doesn’t really tackle them more head on. Labour needs an analysis of what the essential characteristics of the most effective school systems are – something about which the OECD has a good deal to say, little of it supportive of the Gove revolution. 
As a result, the document says little about the role of the private sector, the gradual moves towards a profit making sector and the massive lack of openness and transparency that surrounds Academies and Free Schools. Nor does it consider questions like what we actually mean by “fair admissions”, what the proper scope of school autonomy (for all schools) should be, or why we need to have so many different types of school.
The passion which underpinned Labour’s opposition to the NHS changes is not yet to be seen in the education field. But there are some signs that evidence is beginning to accumulate that challenges the government’s view of the world – even reaching today the Guardian leader writers!

Let’s hope that the responses to the consultation go to the heart of the matter and spark a real debate on the fundamentals of what is being done to our education service and how we go about putting it right."    (Source: SEA Education for Everybody Forum http://educevery.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/labour-consultation-on-devolving-power-in-education/)

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