Labour’s consultation paper on ‘Education and children’: missed opportunities and misguided priorities

Richard Hatcher's picture
Labour has circulated an 8 page ‘draft consultation paper’ called Education and children which seems likely to be the basis for its 2015 election manifesto for education. It contains some ideas which should be supported and some which are far too vague to know what they would mean. It also is notable for its silence about many of the key policies of Gove, which means that they are likely to continue under a Labour government.

The most positive proposals concern early years support. Free childcare will expand from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents of three and four year-olds, which will save parents over £1,500 per child per year, and wraparound care from 8am to 6pm will be provided through their local school.

Education for economic growth

The dominant theme of the paper is the need to overcome the skills deficit which holds back economic growth. The solution is vocational education for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ who do not go to university. Labour plans ‘a new gold standard Technical Baccalaureate for young people, acting as a stepping stone into an apprenticeship, further study or skilled work.’ (p5).

There are five problems with this argument. First, while it is true that there are areas of skills shortage, it is also true, as Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley argue in their 2013 book The Great Reversal: Young People, Education and Employment in a Declining Economy, that many young people are over-qualified for the jobs they are doing, or cannot find a job at all. (Their book is available free here)

Second, what the Tech Bacc actually comprises isn’t explained, apart from saying it will include English and maths to 18. Is it a new qualification or simply the packaging and relabelling of existing courses? What course content is envisaged? What is ‘vocational education’? How general, how job-specific? What non-vocational education will accompany it? These are familiar questions because Labour is recycling a policy which has been tried before, most recently with New Labour’s Diplomas, and failed.

Third, at present there are far too few quality apprenticeships, as against low quality, short-term fake ones, compared to the number of applicants. Labour promises more. ‘We will…expect employers to create significantly more apprenticeships in exchange for giving them more control over skills funding and standards.’ (p8). But the reality is there are a million young people unemployed and there is no chance that employers will offer enough new apprenticeships for more than a small minority of these, unless Labour adopts far more radical economic policies, including a massive investment programme in socially useful job creation and a shorter working week to spread jobs around, neither of which it has any intention of doing.

Four, the implication of the paper is that the Tech Bacc and more apprenticeships will lead to more jobs. This is a fallacy, as Allen and Ainley demonstrate. The causes of high youth unemployment are not a skills deficit, they are structural – the decline in the need for youth labour as a result of fundamental changes in the UK economy – and they require radical economic policies to tackle them.

Five, what is being proposed, far from being a common over-arching qualification such as Tomlinson envisaged, is a new bi-partite system which will powerfully reinforce patterns of social class inequality. There will be a division at 16 – probably reaching back to age 14 - with the ‘academic’ 50% staying on in the sixth form or sixth form college to take A Levels and enter higher education (where they will continue to pay high fees: Labour is only promising ‘that repayments are related more closely to ability to pay.’ (p9)). Meanwhile, the ‘vocational’ 50% will transfer to FE colleges, which are to be transformed into ‘new specialist Institutes of Technical Education…licensed to deliver Labour’s Tech Bacc’ (p5), leading to a proper apprenticeship for the few and to a low-pay, low-skill, casualised job for the many.

Standards not structures

The paper states that ‘The Government has narrowly focused on what schools are called, rather than how they teach. Putting that right is the central task for the next Labour Government.’ (p3). This is a re-run of the familiar ‘standards not structures’ argument of New Labour. It has the advantage for Labour of enabling it to ignore, in other words to accept, the continuation of Gove’s policies on academies and local authorities (see below). Labour ‘will prioritise what matters most in our schools; driving up standards with a relentless focus on the quality of teaching.’ (p3) with four strategies. First, no unqualified teachers. This should be supported. Second, more professional development. Good, provided it is funded to make time available. Third, ‘revalidation’, i.e. time-limited licences. Not necessary. Fourth, career progression in the classroom. Yes, but again, is there additional funding available?

But the key thing here is not what Labour is saying but what it isn’t saying. Not a word about what really holds back teachers - the performance targets that dominate teachers’ lives; Ofsted, which needs replacing by a new model of evaluation, accountability and support; SATs and other iniquitous forms of assessment such as in the early years. And not a word about the need for creative teaching for creative learning. In fact the only word about the curriculum, apart from the Tech Bacc, is a promise to free all schools from the national curriculum, which makes nonsense of the idea of a national curriculum.

Local democracy and local authorities

Another of the striking omissions in the paper concerns local authorities. In fact, astonishingly, the words don’t appear in the paper at all, or even the fashionable get-out term ‘the middle tier’. The silence may be because Blunkett is producing a review of the role of local authorities. But what it signals is that local elected government is not central to Labour’s education thinking.

So the paper says ‘local areas’ will be able to decide admissions policies (pp6 and 10) but it doesn’t say what mechanism, what institutional arrangements, will enable that to happen. A repeated theme of the paper is that ‘Labour will empower local communities to have a greater say about education in their area’ (p6) – although only one issue which they will be able to have a say about is specified: ‘local communities will have a greater say in the new schools opening up in their area.’ (p7). But again, no mention of the role of a local authority in coordinating and representing the community’s views. Similarly, the paper emphasises the need for ‘the rigorous local accountability that is crucial to driving up standards.’ (p6), but makes no mention of the role of the local authority as the body to which schools are accountable and its responsibility for ensuring that support is provided for schools that need it.

Academies and free schools

The silence about local authorities means there is no commitment to create a fully inclusive local school system by incorporating academies and free schools into it. There is a deafening silence about academies. They will continue as they are, locally unaccountable, including those run by democratically unaccountable privately-owned chains. Labour will not permit any new free schools, but there is no commitment to bring existing ones into a reinvigorated local authority system. (The case for reconstructed and radically democratised local authorities in education is argued in ‘Democratising local school systems: participation and vision’, in M Allen and P Ainley (eds) Education beyond the Coalition: reclaiming the agenda, 2013. Available free here).

Why we need to campaign for a new direction for education

Obviously there are a few positive proposals in Labour’s paper which should be supported. But overall it is far from the radical alternative we need to root out Goveism and set the education system on a different track. The paper says little or nothing about some of the key issues, which means that it leaves some of the pillars of Tory education policy intact. And the main proposals it does venture to make, around the ‘forgotten 50%’, are a misconceived re-run of previous failed policies which will deepen the existing social divisions in the education system and the youth labour market. Some on the left have pinned their hopes on influencing Labour to change course, but it is clear now that to achieve more than minor concessions will require mass pressure on Labour from a powerful campaign bringing together teachers and other school workers with parents and the wider public.

Richard Hatcher
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Brian's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 09:23

Thanks for that very useful summary Richard. Like you I find the lack of real vision very disappointing, especially the tacit acceptance of Gove's damaging policies. In fact it resonated with Roger's pertinent comment yesterday ... ' It is like the ‘bleeding’ doctor, applying more and more of the same as they patient fails to recover. The result is the death of the patient. '

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 09:51

Thank you Richard. Every paragraph and every word of this is clearly, concisely and comprehensively argued, and is absolutely right.

The most dangerous mistake is the corruption of the school curriculum and comprehensive entitlement through creating a 'vocational pathway' in KS4. This will certainly divide pupils at 14. I think it would be even worse leading to earlier assumptions about pupil potential resulting in selection within schools at age 11.

Labour will be creating grammar and secondary modern streams within the same school. Academy Trusts and chains may even completely split their schools with different curricula and even different uniform designations. In fact this has already happened.

My New Statesman article addresses this most basic and fundamental in Labour's thinking.

You are also right to point up the lack of a role for LAs. The problem here began with the creation of the 'Cabinet' system in LAs that accompanied the abolition of LEA status and Education Committees. Since Chief Education Officers have been replaced by 'Corporate Directors of Children's Services' the quality of LA management of local education services in many areas has disastrously declined. Cumbria LA, where Labour has either held or shared power, is a horror story example.

It is obvious to everybody including the London Mayor and the Chief Inspector of Shools that the DfE is hopelessly out of its depth trying to manage and regulate thousands of independent Academy and Free Schools all feeding voraciously from the taxpayer. There are 'known scandals' and 'unknown scandals'. As the former are now being exposed almost by the week it is reasonable to assume that they are the tip of an iceberg.

Why create a new 'middle tier' to provide 'local accountability' when that is what democratically elected local government is for? No wonder turnout at local elections is so low and falling.

Whereas Ed Milliband has been both bold and competent in many areas of national and international policy, Labour's efforts on education remain absolutely abysmal.

We really do need to stop making excuses and fiddling about around the edges of Gove's privatisation model and start mounting an effective campaign, if it is not already too late. There is plenty of evidence that it would be supported by parents and the public if properly presented with conviction.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 11:13

Roger - I listened to part of the broadcast session of the panel giving evidence to the Education Select Committee yesterday re free schools and academies. Dame Sally Coates said the ability of local authorities to call failing schools to account was diminished because LAs no longer had anyone whose sole job was to manage education. Education had been swallowed up by Children's Services.

In March 2011, the Education Select Committee said Ofsted's responsibility for children's care and inspecting schools was too large a remit. It recommended dividing Ofsted into two. The same applies to local authorities - responsibility for education should be separate from children's care.

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 11:30

I can't comment on the consultation document because I have resigned from the Labour Party. However, I would encourage anyone who is still a member to read the document and submit comments. It is a really wishy washy document with paragraphs identifiably targeted to please, eg employers.

These are some of my comments:

Page 3 Line 7: The education system does not fail "the forgotten 50%" - the league tables and the Government's setting of arbitrary benchmarks discounts them. REPLACE "Today, we have an education system that fails the forgotten 50 percent" WITH "Today we have an assessment system with defines the 50 percent who do not go to university as failing."

Page 3 Line 8 & 9: "The Government has narrowly focused on what schools are called (ADD) and has experimented with different forms of governance, rather than teaching."

Page 3 Line 15: Britain cannot succeed with an education system (DELETE "that only works for half the country") ADD "which punishes schools which focus on the whole range of abilities and the progress made by individual children, rather than those who achieve the artificial bench mark of 5 A*-C GCSEs or %age of KS3 level 4s."

Page 3 Line 25: Labour understands that improving the quality of teaching ADD "and cooperation between schools", and not an obsessive focus on types of ADD "and competition between" schools, is the ......

Page 3 line 35: "parents and local communities will have a greater say in the school systems........and challenged early." ADD When academies and "free" schools are deemed to be "failing" or when parents and the local communities vote accordingly, the local authority may take a school under its umbrella.

Page 4 line 48 ADD New Paragraph: Labour will consult teachers on the best way of enabling teachers to work together to share good practice and to participate in curriculum development, thereby enabling all to take an active part in professional development, rather than being passive recipients of it.

Page 6 INSERT new line 12All state funded schools will come under a single regulatory framework administered by the local authority middle tier. All funding agreements to be brought into line with education law in order to create a 'level playing field on admissions, funding, exclusions, SEN etc.

Page 6 INSERT new line 40All state funded schools, including academies and "free" schools, will be required to have a minimum of two elected parents, two one staff members (other than the headteacher) and one local authority representative on its governing body.

Page 7 INSERT new line 17Where there is a need for new schools, Labour will ensure that this is planned by the local education authority in consultation with appropriate members of the community and other bodies.

Phil Taylor's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 18:07

This is a very helpful summary of a policy document that unfortunately does not address many of the most important issues facing our education system. As Richard suggests, the lack of clarity over what 'local' means and the implied imposition of professional development leading to re-licensing are worrying.

In addition, there is the continued incoherence of a national curriculum that schools need not follow, with avoidance presented as a benefit. This means that what will define the curriculum will be what is assessed. Allied to this is the problem of conflated assessment purposes. The report says nothing about this, only vague notions about 'standards'. Assessment and accountability should be de-coupled, particularly if grade rationing through an imposed normal distribution is retained. The latter will only perpetuate attainment gaps.

Two further commonly repeated claims need to be questioned:

'Studies have shown that students with high performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those with low performing teachers.'

This claim is not sourced but perhaps goes back to the Sanders & Rivers(1) value-added modelling (VAM) of teacher performance in the 1990s US, which Barber & Mourshed used in the first McKinsey report(2) and which heavily influenced the 2010 'Importance of Teaching' white paper(3). VAM has since been shown to be highly suspect, with little stability across years, classes and contexts(4). In other words, teachers in the 'top 25%' one year are often not in that group in subsequent years and vice-versa.

'International evidence suggests that high performing education systems combine high levels of school freedoms with strong local accountability.'

This claim is also unattributed, but usually refers to OECD/PISA evidence(5). When the nature of 'strong local accountability' is unpicked it means schools publicly reporting pupil assessments, not the hyper-accountability that is inflicted on our teachers and schools. Also, 'school freedoms' are more to do with resource allocation and curriculum adaptation and flexibility, than opting-out of a national curriculum or school autonomy outside a local school framework.


Ralph Berry's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 22:38

Very helpful Richard, it is important that we in Local Government respond clearly and make the case for local accountability of all schools, which as you can see in Bradford Kings Science Academy so clearly demonstrates.

It is essential we show how we can ensure support, intervention, equity in admissions and the ambitions of integrated Children Services are not lost..

I will try to update the arguments put in the 'missing middle'

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 20/03/2014 - 22:59

As you and others have said, Richard, so many missed opportunities, but no surprises there for me. Our politicians are bankrupt. Their policies offer nothing that we haven't seen before or instinctively know will be disastrous if they are ever deployed. Education is under attack. If this is what the major opposition party is now planning to serve up, why bother with the time and cost of conducting a general election next year? Let the serving politicians decide where they would like to sit in the House while we watch them further debase our democracy! Roger's comment about them 'fiddling about around the edges' strikes a chord, and not only in relation to Gove's privatisation model.

Those things that need to change in education, to make it fit for the future, are not even being discussed by any of the political parties. Many people believe, as do I, that politicians are utterly incapable of setting aside their own or their party's self-interest for the good of our country.

You indicate, Richard, that 'Education for economic growth' is the dominant theme of this paper. This too, is no surprise.

As Allen and Ainley point out "The causes of high youth unemployment are not a skills deficit, they are structural – the decline in the need for youth labour as a result of fundamental changes in the UK economy – and they require radical economic policies to tackle them."

However, it is the tradition in our country to identify deficiencies in education as the root cause of all our problems. I have some sympathy for this notion but not for the reasons our political leaders would be happy to admit. The education system is failing to turn out independent thinkers, young adults capable of holding all us 'oldies' to account for what we are allowing to be done against education. It is obviously felt inappropriate, by those in power, for young people to challenge and question. Instead of education for life we seem happy to substitute education for economic success. In the future, most people will no longer 'enjoy' the opportunity to acquire a job for life. Creativity, adaptability and resilience will likely single out those destined for more settled and stable futures. Things are changing as we write. The only certainty we have is that the future will be so different from the past. Those most likely to be cast aside if the worst elements of Labour's plans are enacted are those young individuals who don't fit into neat pigeon holes. This is because they are just that, individuals destined to follow their own path to development but only if they have encountered an education that allows them space and time to grow.

While our economic future is important, it is not a good enough reason to determine why, what and how we seek to educate ALL our young people, starting at birth, in partnership with families and local communities.

It is depressing that so much of the hype in the current debate, is fed by a failure on the part of our leaders to recognise how much more there is to the life of a nation in this new global environment than its capacity to achieve economic dominance.

Richard, it isn't only some of those on the left who "have pinned their hopes on influencing Labour to change course, but it is clear now that to achieve more than minor concessions will require mass pressure on Labour from a powerful campaign bringing together teachers and other school workers with parents and the wider public." And it isn't only the Labour Party that needs to respond in a powerful campaign. Time to let the people speak.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 16:17

To borrow from and adapt Dante, 'give up hope all ye educationalists who vote Labour ...

Labour have already announced that they won't be repealing any of Gove's changes and this includes the independence of academies and free schools from LAs. Neither will they revoke the new national curriculum nor the league tables. Yes, they will breath life into a vocationally/technically based baccalaureate that is aimed at redressing the heavily biased cognitive curriculum pedaled through the EBac. The latter will at last provide some tangible and recognised freedom choice to pupils.

So as I see it a vote for Labour's stance on education is the equivalent of a vote for the Conservatives. Outside of education Ed's strategies are almost equally as clueless. I really do fear for what follows the next general election because all the parties are bereft and bankrupt of genuine ideas.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 16:27

Andy - I don't agree with you about Ed Milliband. I think he has been/is remarkably astute and principled. The world owes him a debt of thanks for single handedly stopping the West from bombing Syria. I am genuinely astonished that he is presiding over such dire education policies and is still listening to those in the last government that laid the foundations for everything that is wrong with our school system.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/03/2014 - 16:36

Roger, you cite one alleged positive incident during his tenure as leader of the Labour party and I have to say that even the mercy of us not endorsing the US bombing of Syria was not exclusively or even in the majority down to our Ed. But one positive - no matter its importance - does not a palpable or effective leader make. So I fear that we must agree to disagree.

agov's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 14:35

"Labour will not permit any new free schools"

Yes it will. NuLab will just call them something else. It's what passes for opposition with this useless bunch of careerists.

Wouldn't bother about anything that may be said by 'read my lips', the well known A4e advisor.

agov's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 14:42

I'm with you Andy.

Ed may have opportunistically swayed the ConDem government not to support possible American action on Syria but that's all. America didn't bomb because Obama is worried about what would happen there and also to Democratic electoral support. If McCain was president it would bomb no matter what Miliband bleated.

Ed may have been astute in profiting from ConDem inadequacies but as to being principled - really? I must have missed that day.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 16:05

What is also very worrying for the voter is that Ed has not made any capital out of ConDem fractures or rub points and alarmingly has done nothing effective in relation to an alternative strategy for the economy. Regarding the latter his proposals on a guaranteed job for 6-months for young unemployed people is a shambles (initially only for the first year if they got on then after vocal criticism flimflam flopped into the life of the parliament) not least because of the underlying borrowing required to fund it. We are then left with a litany of populist rhetoric on utility bills and the squeezed middle (which can be whatever a politician wants it to mean).

As for Syria, yes, he did help but there were lots of Liberal and Conservative MPs who who unpersuaded and threatening open revolt, so it wasn't hero Ed to the rescue. If anything and with supreme irony if there are two politicians to thank for the UK no vote it was the legal of mistrust of Messrs Blair and Bush Jnr.

What an awful prospect we face: we know what to expect from the Conservatives; the Liberal's will sell their soul to retain a coalition foothold on power; Labour, well enough said already, then whose else other than the slim chance of a UKIP in coalition! Mind, at least in UKIP it might be argued that what you see is what you get. We are then in a truly lamentably parlous position ... :-(

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 17:59

No, the crucial intervention was Ed Milliband's in opposing the government's motion in the Commons, and Labour under his leadership winning the vote. That made it impossible for the UK to take part. That wrecked the Western coalition. Only a few day's later the true nature of the Syrian rebels began to emerge. There is no question that such action on the part of the Western powers is now out of the question now that the true scale of Islamist participation in the Syrian opposition is known.

I am never slow to criticise Labour when it is due. However on this Ed Milliband is a hero and history will judge him as such for his timely intervention.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 18:30

agov and Andy - Labour under Ed Milliband has already moved a very long way from New Labour; not far enough for me in general, and for most of us in respect of education policy. However, the general election is only a year away. Which party with a realistic chance of forming a government would be the least worst in terms of education policy? Certainly not the Conservatives or Lib Dems.

Hand wringing, anger and despair will not change anything. The only realistic strategy is to keep opposing the failings of market ideology led education (which LSN contributors amongst others are doing very well) while targeting Labour politicians with practical alternative policies and even more important, with evidence of their potential popularity with voters.

Public discontent with Academies, Free Schools and Goveism generally is growing and there are signs that the media is stirring. Let us not obsess about our differences but concentrate on the task in hand.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 19:02

Roger, the following reported at the time hardly elevates Ed to hero status. Indeed, it makes clear that there was opposition from across the House and a large number of Liberal MPs abstained.

"After a gruelling seven-and-a-half hour debate, dozens of MPs on all sides of the House expressed severe reservations about becoming embroiled in the civil war in Syria.

The vote came after a Labour amendment to the government motion on intervention in Syria was been shot down by MPs by 332 votes by 220.

Labour's junior shadow transport spokesman, Jim Fitzpatrick, resigned during the course of the debate as he felt even the Labour amendment, which had more safeguards than the government motion, was too open to being used for military action."

I am therefore sticking with my recollection of the saga as it unfolded, which regularly referred to Blair and Bush's betrayal of their countries through awful misrepresentation of the facts - for Blair not the least being his 'intelligence dossier' plagarised from a UK student. This betrayal of trust led very many across the political divide to challenge Cameron's position - that is to say after Blair they didn't trust what they were told.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 19:05

I think this may be of interest.....

"Communities should have their say"

A statement by the leader of the Labour group Bath and North East Somerset Council printed in the Bath Chronicle March 20, 2014

"The continuing concern over Oldfield School highlights the difficulties parents and communities experience when a school ceases to be the responsibility of the local authority.

Today, thousands of schools are accountable only to the Secretary of State, meaning potential under performance and mismanagement are not spotted and challenged early enough. Instead of collaboration, schools are operating as islands competing against each other. The fragmentation of our school system has resulted in a lack of local accountability and oversight.

In these circumstances parents and others have no alternative but to go to the Department for Education in London if they want help or information.

The local authority can advise but has no power to intervene or even to provide information.

The Labour Group are pleased that the Labour Party is working to address the fragmentation of our school system. Labour will address the lack of local accountability and oversight and enable people to have a greater say in their area by restoring the link between schools and the communities they serve.

Councillor John Bull Leader of B&NES Labour Group South Stoke Bath"

Read more:

The Oldfield School problem, is covered on this web site, here:

David Barry's picture
Sat, 22/03/2014 - 23:06


Absolutely right.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 07:49

Andy - But crucially the opposition led by Ed opposed it. The invasion of Iraq was supported by Lab and Con.

Richard Hatcher's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 10:31

The promise that ‘Labour will address the lack of local accountability and oversight and enable people to have a greater say in their area by restoring the link between schools and the communities they serve’ points in the right direction but is just as vague as the similar statements in the ‘Education and children’ paper and indeed by Twigg a couple of years ago. What policies would translate it into meaningful practice?

First, reintegrate academies into a fully inclusive authority system. The Tories’ aim is to make the academies policy irreversible, but it isn’t. David Wolfe has shown that the funding agreements can be rescinded by the secretary of state with a stroke of a pen – as Gove has just demonstrated by seizing 10 academies from E-ACT. The problem isn’t legal it’s political: Labour has already stated that it won’t do it, leaving the sponsor-appointed governors and the chain empires in place, which makes a mockery of the claim of ‘restoring the link between schools and the communities they serve’.

Second, give local authorities the powers and resources to (a) coordinate and ensure school-to-school support and (b) promote a progressive strategic vision for education.

Third, democratise local authorities by enabling public and professional participation in policy-making by (a) creating Education Committees comprising councillors and elected representatives of Education Forums (see below) and other appropriate bodies including wards/constituencies, schools and teachers, and (b) opening up education Scrutiny committees to input and representation from similar bodies.

Fourth, see the unit of sub-local education policy and provision as not just individual schools but the network of schools collaborating to serve a neighbourhood or a small town, and create Local Education Forums to enable local collective community and stakeholder participation in the governance of the local network (which are currently run by headteachers). Ideally they would be the governance mechanism of local Children’s Zones.

Fifth, establish a local authority-wide Education Forum to enable public and professional participation in strategic and operational policy-making at that scale, with elected representatives from Local Forums and other appropriate bodies. (The exact arrangements can be decided locally.) Enable representatives of the Forum and the Local Forums to have input into and representation on the authority’s Education Committee and Scrutiny Committee.

Sixth, support all the above by the creative use of digital media for participatory dialogue between the local authority, Forums, schools and citizens.

Together these proposals would represent a radical democratisation of the local school system. Their rationale is two-fold: it should be the democratic right of local citizens to have an effective voice in local education policy-making, and if we are to genuinely realise the potential of schooling, and in particular to tackle the huge social inequalities within it, we need to provide the structures to enable working local partnerships with all the stakeholders. We should be urging the Blunkett Review of LAs to be taking these proposals on board. If it doesn’t, promises of enabling local people to have a say will be just tokenism.

Richard Hatcher

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 11:10

Richard - All that seems very sensible to me. The Labour leadership is understandably concerned not to upset parents. I think they are misjudging the public mood as more and more parents are getting ever more frustrated at the lack of accountability of Academies and Free Schools. They might just about stomach that if persuaded that the pay off is higher standards. That was never true - just a hugely successful PR con based on 'equivalents' and exploitation of admissions policies.

However the growing number of Ofsted failures combined with funny business in terms of financial practice is steadily puncturing this myth.

It could do with some more effective help from Tristram Hunt. Centre forwards and barn doors come to mind.

If Labour want parents on side what's wrong with my suggestion of providing for parental ballots to restore schools to LA responsibility and stewardship (not control) triggered by formal petitions requiring a given proportion of parents?

This would be very popular. Who could oppose it without painting themselves as ideologically motivated?

Why aren't there Labour focus groups targeting parents and asking them what want?

agov's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 11:18

Perhaps Cameron should also not have believed what he was told, no doubt in a principled way. -

agov's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 11:28

It likes to generate the impression that it has "moved a very long way from New Labour" but the way I see it that's mostly to distance itself from Blair who now seems hated by almost everyone, except Gove. I don't see any real difference in the substance of what they say. And why would anyone believe anything they say anyway?

Public discontent with Academies etc may be growing but that would be despite NuLab not because of it. To that extent I agree with the practical strategy you refer to i.e. to try to force the liblabcons to do something none of them would otherwise choose to do.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 12:03

Roger, you say, "while targeting Labour politicians with practical alternative policies and even more important, with evidence of their potential popularity with voters." Why only Labour politicians? Why not all politicians of all parties? For LSN not to do so is to explicitly imply that LSN supports labour, whereas my understanding is that it supports equality of educational opportunity for all; irrespective of political viewpoint.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 12:10

Roger, the report I cited at

"Labour's junior shadow transport spokesman, Jim Fitzpatrick, resigned during the course of the debate as he felt even the Labour amendment, which had more safeguards than the government motion, was too open to being used for military action."

It follows then that Ed's opposition amendment was roundly thrown out by parliament and a key reason for this was that "was too open to being used for military action" and not as you suggest Ed standing up and being counted as being roundly against military action. It also follows that Cameron lost the vote not because of Ed and his failed amendment but because house did not want to repeat the Blair debacle over supporting Bush in Gulf War 2.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 12:31

Andy - Those of us that post on LSN, that agree with each other on educational matters more than we disagree, and I take the liberty of including both me and you in that group, presumably hope to influence national policy in some way, if only in adding to the weight of the argument. However I am missing all those neo-cons with funny names that appear to have given up on LSN.

I am sure there are people that support all shades of politics who can contribute to the debate and this is an open forum. I am not a LSN insider. I don't worry about that. Someone has to manage and run the website and they are doing a great job. It is an open forum. There is not an 'LSN' view on anything, but we have to be free to agree with each other (or not).

As I pointed out, the party that is closest to my views by far, even if still a long way away, is Labour. Labour still believes in publicly funded and managed public services. I don't believe the mainstream Conservative party does, although some important and influential individual Conservatives and conservatives (eg Michael Portillo - he who saved the Settle-Carlisle railway) certainly do. The Lib Dems are a waste of space without Charles Kennedy's powerful positive influence. Labour has a good chance of forming the next government and in my view that would be so much better than the alternative (but then I thought that about Blair and I don't think John Major could have been worse).

So I think it makes sense to target Labour if we want the things we agree about in education to come to pass.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 16:29

Understood. However, my stance is that the priority is to fight/lobby for equality of education. Thereafter, I feel strongly that to maintain the integrity of the forum all politicians of all persuasions should be lobbied and not just the main opposition party of the day. When all is said and done not every ConDem agrees with Gove and current policy. Additionally, there are politicians in vulnerable position defending or fighting a marginal seat that could well be influenced.

John Mountford's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 23:28

Roger, like Andy, I agree that it is vital that the challenge to politicians should be across the board. It is, however, my view that whatever solution we might come up with by 2015, it will be just the application of a sticking plaster to a wound that will not heal until the underlying infection is treated. I am committed to supporting the complete separation of party politics, through the ailing electoral system, from education governance.

Richard, I like the proposals you outline above. They build significantly on your article in the SEA pamphlet, 'Gove's School Revolution Scrutinised', entitled "Two ways to make profits: run the schools, sell the teaching".

At the end of this, in response to the two issues you you explore in the article, you ask the question "Is Labour up to the challenge?" I do not believe it is, any more than I believe that any other, or even all of the political parties combined, are capable of setting aside their historical ideological approaches to the reform of education in the interests of the future of ALL our young people.

However, this is not a battle for the immediate future. As reluctant as I am to admit it, and in spite of my total distrust in the motivation of party political power-seekers, I am forced to admit that it is in the best interest of progress towards a more equitable school system if Labour were to gain power at the next general election.

If there is any interest among LSN contributors to try and move the education debate forward as discussed here, I would offer my support!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 24/03/2014 - 08:28

John - I completely agree with you. But the next government would need to agree to take education out of politics. Only Labour are likely to be in a position to that and to have the will. Your campaign, which I strongly support, has to target the next potential government doesn't it?

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 22:00

The campaign at ordinaryvoices is building only very slowly, Roger. Initially, I felt that it would take a real grass-roots movement to alert the political parties to the need for them to engage with students, parents, education professionals, the business community and the wider public in a move to build sustainable, evidence based reforms free from the cycle of general elections.

My plan, to enlist others in collecting signatures 'at the school gate', has not worked so far. In following several threads on this site recently, especially Janet's excellent round of reporting on halted academy chains,

I have to agree with your view that the campaign 'has to target the next potential government', not as an alternative but in addition to the existing plan. My question to you is, how willing do you believe the Labour Party would be to consider the changes we are seeking? I believe the first major party to agree to sit down and discuss the establishment of a national commission for education will win wide support and demonstrate that politicians are capable of listening to the collective voice of ordinary people. Far from weakening their appeal with the public, I believe it would give them a new lease of life and help heal our ailing democracy.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 17:13


Perhaps, just perhaps, there might be some mileage in entering into dialogue with the group I based this thread on:

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 17:20

Why not? How do you suggest this might be done?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 18:25

It might be useful if John Mountford used the bbc link embedded in my LSN thread above to review the composition and overview of the lobby group and then consider who/how the ordinary voices group could make a first approach?

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 19:53

Andy, since responding to you thread, I took the opportunity to follow Richard's link to the book by Allen and Ainley and was interested in their take on the links between education and employment, especially because so much mileage is made of this supposed connection by politicians and other influential groups.

"as Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley argue in their 2013 book The Great Reversal: Young People, Education and Employment in a Declining Economy, that many young people are over-qualified for the jobs they are doing, or cannot find a job at all. (Their book is available free here)"

The Pearson Report, 'Making Education Work', clearly makes much of the supposed link, but Allen and Ainley say what Roger and others (including me) have long argued, that linking education for employment and the raising of the nation's global economic standing can only ever be a small factor in determining the future of the service.

"The reality is that rather than education failing the economy, the economy has failed education and this has resulted in a generation of young people now being ‘overqualified but underemployed’ (Ainley and Allen, 2010)."

They argue, convincingly, that, "the declining fortunes of young people in the labour market are not because of the ‘failure’ of education, but more a consequence of long-term changes in the economy."

With this thought in mind, I wonder whether dialogue with the Pearson group might be tricky. They clearly make this connection in their report.

The reason I would be in favour of trying to make contact, however, relates very strongly to the fact that they argue for a direct connection between the inevitable shortcomings inherent in education governance remaining tied to the electoral cycle. This we all agree on.

I guess the decision we would need to make is whether in making contact with the group, there would be sufficient common ground. As mentioned in the BBC report, 'Sir Roy Anderson emphasised the need for a long-term view, saying: "Successful businesses have clear objectives and goals which they pursue consistently over time, yet changes in government make it difficult to achieve this for education".'

The use of terms like, 'objectives', 'goals' and 'consistently over time' convince me it would be worth making the effort to connect with them. Your question, Roger, is what we would have to consider next.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 20:44

We shouldn't be afraid of debating with people that come from a different starting point and with whom we may find some irreconcilable differences. I have this trouble with Andy all the time. Factionalism is the great enemy of all progressive movements.

Who knows what may come out of exposing these people to the powerful arguments from many that contribute to this site. We can all only benefit from the experience. According to Henry's figures this site has a very large readership and therefore the potential for significant influence.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 21:45

John, I concur your pithy and for me accurate summation. Indeed, I would argue that Greece and Turkey have been classic examples of dysfunctional politically target led educational policies in that, they have significantly high MA and PhD rates but very few jobs for these 'highly' qualified students who then end up in menial or inappropriate employment e.g. internal tourism jobs. Similarly Canada (BC, Alberta and Ontario) are training too many teachers for their static / shrinking education marketplace and effectively exporting teachers around the world; particularly the Middle East, Europe and UK.

From that position it seems to me that a fruitful opening dialogue is to establish a bridgehead agreement regarding:

1. Wresting education policy from the government of the day and their party political ideologues
2. Supporting a non-party political group (e.g. select committee + employers + HE + appropriate others) to draw-up a policy for agreement by all parties (political and non-political)
3. Support the establishment of an operational education group to apply, embed, monitor, evaluate and report to parliament through the group at (2)
4. Support a long term strategic (but rolling) plan based on a minimum 15 year cycle

It strikes me that if that could be agreed as the foundation stone then the rest will follow (including the devil in the details (e.g. GCSEs or Y13 Diploma, Parallel and equal weighting of academic and work related qualifications, entry age not be 7 yo, quality assurance of school performance).

Roger, I am a tad confused by the intention of your reference to "I have this trouble with Andy all the time", which can be construed in 2 ways: one of which could lead to significant offence be taken. We have agreed to disagree on issues because in minimalist terms your position is one of absolutist theory being pedaled as facts whereas my openly philosophical position is that I accept that there are things in and about life that are beyond humanities ability to fully comprehend and prove and must therefore remain in the realm of the theoretical (irrespective of the argument for balance of probability).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 22:05

It was a poor effort at a joke, but the distinction between facts and theories is far from clear.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 22:09

Roger, thank you for the clarification, which I rather hoped would be as you confirmed :-) (I can put my rhetorical cudgel back in the cupboard :-D)

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 25/03/2014 - 22:04

John - I don't know the answer to your question but I do know that you are right.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 22:38

A&R this is the press release of the Pearson report we have been referring to

At the end, there is a list of the good and wise who contributed to it. I am intending to contact the PA of the new Managing Director to introduce myself and explain about the campaign and also to find out where I can get a copy of the full report which I have failed to locate to date.

If you would like to share in this project, I am happy for you both to contact me directly and this can be done via the site. I hope that Richard will take the opportunity also. Let me know how you feel!

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