Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

BLUE SKY THINKING? Recommendations for Labour’s education policies

In R.Richardson on June 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

a discussion piece by RUTH RICHARDSON

The Socialist Education Association was founded as the National Association of Labour Teachers in the 1920s. It is affiliated to the Labour Party and acts as a “think tank” on educational matters.

Last year, the SEA made a submission to the Labour Party recommending ways in which the party should develop its education policy. That policy, said the SEA, should be founded on four key principles: equality, democracy, freedom and solidarity. It must address the issue of how our public education system should be controlled and made accountable.


The first priority is to save state maintained education from privatisation. Here the private sector has taken over, then sold back to schools, a range of services from school meals to inspection services. The large scale creation of Academies and Free Schools need input from private companies to meet the tightened application criteria. The next Labour government should conduct a full review of the governance and regulation of these private providers.

Labour should expose the fact that schools converting to Academies are bribed to do so. As well as their normal funding they receive a proportion of the money allocated to their LEA (Local Education Authority) for central services. The LEA is so much the poorer, and indeed in some cases its very survival is under threat. It should be remembered that part of the LEA’s role is the democratic expression of the local community. Academies are accountable only to the Secretary of State.


Comprehensive education has been an overwhelming success, says the SEA, and only Tory ministers denigrate the achievements of teachers and learners. Michael Gove’s nostalgia for a “golden age” of education is totally misplaced. The SEA urges Labour to reassert its commitment to comprehensive education. The curriculum should be broad, balanced and inclusive. Most importantly, co-operation between local schools should be encouraged, not league-table driven competition. Schools in deprived areas don’t need to be described as “failing”. They need generous resources and the freedom to teach according to the specific needs of their pupils.


The SEA considers a fair admission system is essential. All schools should have intakes that are as balanced as possible in terms of ability, class and ethnicity. Covert selection should be exposed and eliminated. And Labour should re-introduce the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – the grant that poorer students used to receive to allow them to carry on with their education beyond 16. Also on the agenda should be plans for a phased return to a fully publicly-funded system of higher education and the abolition of tuition fees.


We shall get the best from our teachers if they have good conditions of service and feel valued. It is not helpful to have comments thrown at them like that made by Sir Michael Wilshaw (head of Ofsted) that “teachers don’t know the meaning of the word stress.” Teachers, says the SEA, need time to work together and share good practice, and should be entitled to regular sabbaticals to refresh their knowledge and skills.

The SEA is also concerned about the growing privatisation of teacher training, based on organisations such as “Teach First”, which has recently overtaken the Institute of Education in the number of teachers trained. “Teach First” is a charity, with corporate sponsors such as the Canary Wharf Group and Citi. Its website is worth a visit. It seems to be exactly the sort of set-up that David Cameron would champion. Reason enough to distrust it?


The SEA’s submission is comprehensive and thought-provoking. It was produced after extensive research and discussion and has contributions from a number of eminent educationalists.

As Professor Richard Pring, president of the SEA, writes:

“The Labour Party needs to be reminded of the profoundly ethical nature of educational policy in terms of values and personal wellbeing… We should make sure that the provision of educational opportunities begins with the needs of the learners not with the interests of the providers.”




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