Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDUCATION MATTERS: Where are Labour’s policies?

In R.Richardson on January 30, 2015 at 1:15 pm

When Tristram Hunt, Labour’s education spokesperson, gave his speech at Party conference, I was hopeful that we might gain some insight into what policies will be adopted when Labour is in office.

There were a few pointers in the right direction. The Tory cuts, which have decimated the “Sure Start” centres for the under 5s, would be halted. Free nursery education for under 5s would be increased. Vocational education in F.E. Colleges with two year apprenticeships and career advice would be promoted.

Interestingly, Hunt declared that all teachers would have to be qualified. Hadn’t this been the case for the past forty or fifty years?

Until the last few years this was certainly the case – but academies and free schools can now appoint unqualified staff if they wish. Hunt also stressed that schools should co-operate not compete.

WHAT WASN’T SAID:

So far so good. But Hunt’s speech was very short, and Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, was critical about what was omitted. “What about Ofsted?” She asked. “Or teachers’ morale and workload?”  Matt Hood, wrote in his Labour Conference Preview in Academies Week,  “The main thing missing was… Labour’s position on academies and free schools.”

At fringe events at the conference other concerns were raised – again, concerns about which Tristram Hunt appeared to have no policies. There was a perception that because of the impact of academisation , many local authority services such as educational psychologists, youth offender initiative and sports facilities have been deprived of funds.  What would Labour do to put things right?

Another area of concern was the focus on traditional subjects to the detriment of the “creative curriculum”. The proscriptive nature of the new national curriculum was another area not tackled by Tristram Hunt.

On another occasion, Tristram Hunt had declared that “we will end the free schools programme”, though what would happen to existing free schools was not made clear – and no mention was made of academies.

PAYOUTS AT ACADEMIES:

Speaking of academies, they have again been getting adverse publicity in the press.  It appears that some pay out large sums of public money for services provided by their sponsors or even by individual trustees.

A cross-party education select committee has brought to light these conflicts of interest. One school’s head spent £50,000 on a one-day training course run by a friend.

Another newspaper report high-lighted the huge pay-rises that academy heads have been awarded.  One quoted is that of Sir Greg Martin, head of the Durand Academy in Stockwell, London. He enjoyed a 56.5 per cent rise last year, bringing his annual salary to £229,000.

It would be good to know that there are Labour policies in the pipeline directed at curbing such excesses, and imposing some measure of accountability to the local authority.

SO WHAT’S EDUCATION FOR?

Earlier this month, Nicky Morgan, Education Minister, raised a few hackles when she said, “The arts and humanities were what you chose because they were useful for all kinds of jobs. Of course we know now that couldn’t be further from the truth. .. the subjects that unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the “stem” subjects” – i.e.: science, technology, engineering and maths.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, commented that downgrading the arts was shortsighted, whilst Nigel Carrington of the London University of Arts felt that discriminating between “hard” stem subjects and “soft” arts subjects would damage the next generation of entrepreneurs. An excellent letter in the “i” newspaper put forward the view that young people should be encouraged “to study what they love best, to broaden their intellects and to be endlessly curious.”

It is worth remembering that Nicky Morgan attended a private school, studied law at Oxford and became a corporate lawyer.  So, one wonders, what special qualities does she bring to her post at the head of the country’s Department of Education?

RUTH RICHARDSON

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