Andy Burnham's speech to NASUWT

Allan Beavis's picture
Here is Andy Burnham's speech criticising the Coalition Government's education. The speech encapsulates many of the questions and criticisms which have been raised on this site and it is great to see that Andy Burnham took the opportunity at NASUWT to stand up for teachers and the comprehensive school system. I hope his message will reach parents, students and anyone else committed to resisting this government's plan for two-tier system of education, whose only outcome will be to segregate society for decades, perhaps even longer.

Andy Burnham also speaks of Gove not mentioning Sweden much these days and he brings up the Charter School study CREDO at Stanford University which showed that Charter schools had failed to revolutionise education in the US - two topics which the Adam Smith Institute report on profit-making free schools also skirted around.
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Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 26/04/2011 - 12:18

This is a terrific speech and quite unlike anything we have heard from a Labour minister for a long long time - his reference, for instance, to the staggering negativity towards comprehensive education in the media: his willingness to stand up for pupils who are not heading for a Russell Group university: and his support for teachers.

Burnham also rightly identifies the real dangers that Gove and this government pose to our state education system, taking us away from a publicly funded service, nationally directed, but planned locally, improving the education of ALL children. If the Tories finish off the job as they mean to, we will have, in effect, a privatised school system, strictly hierarchical, with local authority schools acting as the safety net of every neighbourhood. Why on earth are we trying to emulate Charter schools or other privatised experiments, when all our energy and resources need to go into improving what we have already, including improving quality and introducing a degree of productive choice within the state system.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 26/04/2011 - 12:38

I'm glad Andy Burnham mentioned the silence about Sweden (much trumpeted in the Adam Smith report) and the problems with charter schools in the US (ignored in the aforementiond report). The more publicity about these the better.

I have posted comments about the Adam Smith report - its statistics and its motivation - on the threads dealing with this.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 26/04/2011 - 15:06

Back in February, the Swedish Minister for Education, Jan Björklund said that some free schools give priority to profit for the owners before quality. Björklund is one of the most profiled advocates for free schools in Sweden yet told the Svenska dagbladet that “We on the liberal-conservative side have sometimes been naive when it comes to free schools” Changes in the legislation will now be investigated by a parliamentarian commission.

Tokyo Nambu's picture
Tue, 26/04/2011 - 15:57

"his reference, for instance, to the staggering negativity towards comprehensive education in the media"

It would be more impressive had he stood up for comprehensive education while Tony Blair was dismissing "bog standard" comprehensives, rather than waiting until he was in futile opposition. Labour were in office for thirteen years, and presided over a wholesale dismantling of the comprehensive ideal; it seems a little disingenuous to now talk as though they had nothing to do with that dismantling.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 26/04/2011 - 16:27

It's a really good speech, neatly summarising the worst aspects of Gove's reforms and highlighting the achievements of Labour.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 27/04/2011 - 07:48

Andy Burnham highlighted the achievements of Labour in his speech. However, he'll also need to acknowledge the damage done by the Blu-Labour strategies which laid the foundations for the present government's policies. These include:

1 Allowing specialist schools to select a proportion of pupils by aptitude.
2 Putting so-called failing schools into the hands of private companies
3 The Academies programme
4 Allowing an increasing involvement of religious organisations in education (thus encouraging further fragmentation of society)
5 Introducing an unwieldy national curriculum
6 Increasing the reliance of GCSE grades in league tables which has led to grade inflation.
7 Changing OFSTED rules which resulted in more schools being judged "inadequate".

Andy Burnham is right in publicising the disastrous policies of the present government. However, he also needs to put a clear distance between his policies and those of the previous government. And he needs to explain how he is going to undo the damage.

Tokyo Nambu's picture
Wed, 27/04/2011 - 15:10

"Putting so-called failing schools into the hands of private companies"

Are you implying that there aren't any schools that actually are failing?

"The Academies programme"

Tory. Or at least, CTCs, which amount to the same thing.

"Introducing an unwieldy national curriculum"

Tory. And both they and Labour could have told university academics, log-rolling for their own specialisms, to get stuffed. A national curriculum at a high level is a good thing: it means, for example, that children can move from school to school with their parents' jobs with less disruption. It does not, however, need to be a prescriptive as it is, and that's not the product of government.

"Changing OFSTED rules which resulted in more schools being judged “inadequate”."

Are you saying that inadequate schools are, in fact, palaces of learning?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 27/04/2011 - 17:29


1 It depends how you define "failing". If the school is being judged merely on its GCSE/SAT results when its teaching is satisfactory or better, then that school is not "failing". The low results point to factors outside the school's control. However, if the school's teaching is inadequate then that school is failing even if the GCSE/SAT results are satisfactory. Whatever criteria was used to judge schools as "failing", and whether deserved or not, this label proved to be useful reason to hand schools over to private companies via the Academies programme.

2 The Academies programme may have been inspired by a Tory idea (City Technology Colleges) but the last government expanded it.

3 The National Curriculum was originally supposed to be a core curriculum. Baker wanted more, it mutated and then grew to monstrous proportions under Labour.

4 Many schools who had previously been judged good and who kept the same good practice found they were judged inadequate in the next round of OFSTED because the rules were changed. It does not follow that I believe that "inadequate schools are, in fact, palaces of learning".

Whatever the origin of these policies, the last government picked them up and ran with them. Andy Burnham will need to distance himself from these follies.

Tokyo Nambu's picture
Thu, 28/04/2011 - 08:50

"Many schools who had previously been judged good and who kept the same good practice found they were judged inadequate in the next round of OFSTED because the rules were changed."

Oh, how terrible that schools should be encouraged to reflect on their practice and improve other time, rather than simply deciding that all change stopped in 2003 and they can just carry on without bothering to try to improve.

There's only one sort of school that can sit back: one where every single child achieves 100% in every exam and goes on to the university and career of their choice. Since none of those exist, schools should be trying to improve. If those that don't improve get walloped for sitting still, then good: you try submitting your GCSE course-work as your PhD thesis and see where standing still gets you.

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