Education 2015 - a progressive agenda for the General Election

John Bolt's picture
On 8th April over a hundred people packed Committee Room 14 at the House of Commons to talk about the kind of education policies they want to see on offer at next year’s election. The meeting was hosted by Kevin Brennan MP (Shadow Schools Minister) who introduced the session.

The keynote speaker was Peter Mortimore, former Director of the Institute of Education and author of “Education under Siege”. He began by saying “we want a new government to challenge the cosy consensus that politicians have more or less got it right and that their ideas, right-wing, ideological, neo-liberal ideas are the only show in town”. He went on to present a challenging analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of English education and some radical proposals for change (see the reference to his presentation below). His challenge to the politicians was “that political parties seem to lack the courage to really challenge many of these big ideas. They're doing their best but they seem to lack the courage to go the full hog and really challenge and say:

This is not the way that we want our society to develop. This is not the way that we want our education system to serve it.””

Everyone present was then invited to identify their personal priorities for education policy after 2015. A lot of people made verbal contributions and everyone left a written summary of what they wanted to see happen. The result was a remarkably consistent set of messages which were brought together at the end of the conference by Kenny Frederick, former Headteacher of George Green’s School in East London.

What people were saying can be summarised like this:

1.The National Curriculum should be what it says – a curriculum for all children in all English schools. It should be an entitlement, as originally promised, broadly based, balanced and with clear room for creative and imaginative subjects and personal, social, health and relationship education.
2.Inclusion and equal opportunities need to be at the heart of education provision. This is about SEN and disability but it’s also about meeting the needs of all kinds of children.
3.A fair admissions code should operate for all schools in a geographical area and should be implemented by a locally elected education service. No school should be its own admissions authority.
4.All schools should have the same responsibilities and powers and receive funding according to a common formula that enables them all to fulfill their responsibilities on an equal basis.
5.All schools within a clearly defined geographical area should co-operate and share best practice with the support and guidance of a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service. Educational planning and service delivery that meets the needs of all children resident in an area requires a properly resourced service locally based and with good local knowledge. Best practice should also be shared between education services.
6.The inspection and monitoring of English education must become supportive and be capable of focusing on school improvement when necessary. Standards should be agreed through a national consultation process and inspectors should be trained to help schools attain them.
7.All front line staff in children’s education should have qualified professional status. Continuing professional development should be an entitlement for all staff and those currently without qualified status should be given appropriate training to obtain it.

These then are the issues we want to see at the heart of the 2015 election campaign. All the evidence is that current government policies have little public (see the ICM poll in the Guardian this week) or professional support. We hope there will indeed be politicians brave enough to challenge the “cosy consensus” and to develop an agenda for a truly democratic, inclusive and high quality education service.

There is a sound recording of the meeting together with Peter Mortimore’s presentation here.

The meeting was organised by the Reclaiming Education Alliance which is made up of the Socialist Educational Association, the Campaign for State Education, Comprehensive Future and Information for School and College Governors
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John Mountford's picture
Fri, 18/04/2014 - 16:57

John, it is a good thing that such a forum was convened at this time. I would endorse all the recommendations made by the attendees. Clearly, it would help a beleaguered education service to focus on undoing the harm caused by years of inappropriate reforms and remove the inequity created. However, we have to do more than "hope there will indeed be politicians brave enough to challenge the “cosy consensus” and to develop an agenda for a truly democratic, inclusive and high quality education service."

So many individual commentators and organisations are campaigning for a 'progressive agenda' and yet all we can do is 'hope' that our elected representatives will listen. They ignore our views because we are not united. What is lacking is a common aim and clear leadership. I believe the first aim has to be to create a new system of governance of education, established in law. Failing such a development, there is the strong likelihood that even if a party agrees to back the proposals outlined above, there is no guarantee that they will actually deliver on that promise over time. It cannot be left as an issue of trust. The stakes are too high and the history books tell us that education reforms that lack long-term security are subjected to frequent and often inappropriate tinkering and are often abandoned before they have had time o be implemented and evaluated properly, simply because of a change in the administration.

My solution to the underlying problem of governance has been spoken of by others (for example Michael Bassey) who recognise that we won't get beyond square one without root and branch changes to the present system of political short-termism (see

agov's picture
Sat, 19/04/2014 - 09:19

NuLab hovering around goodies that voters might actually want? - But no promises made, not that any sane person would believe them anyway.

Is there an election scheduled?

Andy V's picture
Sun, 20/04/2014 - 09:38

This is tinkering around the edges and fails to address the big issues e.g. a long term vision and strategy that does not rest with the party political ideologues that cause the general election seesaw and turmoil which stresses and fractures education. All that and the meeting failed to acknowledge the damage caused by excessive high value, high pressure testing between reception and Y11.

Yes, there were clear messages about loosening the worst of the current situation but the outcomes were nevertheless bereft of significant changes. They even left League Tables alone and failed to address the looming spectre PISA testing built into GCSEs.

I make no apologies for being candid to the point of bluntness but for me this was a less than halfhearted side show.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 07:14

Andy - I agree there appears to be a failure to recognise the damaging effect of excessive testing. I've said elsewhere that English children are among the most tested in the world and this has negative consequences (as the OECD warned nearly three years ago, but the situation has worsened since then).

I would like the progressive agenda to include a moratorium on:

1 All tests up to 16+ (pending discussion about assessment and its role in education NOT for mere measuring)
2 Ofsted inspections until Ofsted is revamped (or abolished) to regain the confidence of teachers, parents and society generally.

I would also like a commitment to phase out high stakes tests at 16 (in line with most of the rest of the developed world) over, say, a decade, and graduation (which could include 16+ assessment of a form to be decided) at 18.

Richard Hatcher's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 15:32

This is a good short statement of a progressive manifesto. But it is weak on two key issues which if they are not tackled will leave in place two pillars of Gove’s project of irreversibly undermining state education.

One concerns academies, and in particular academy chains run by private organisations. Why are they not mentioned? It should be a matter of principle that no Labour government would continue to allow these private organisations, many of them now publicly discredited, with no local democratic accountability, to own and control state-funded schools. And there is no legal problem in removing academies from the chains (as Gove has demonstrated by stripping E-ACT of ten of theirs at the stroke of a pen).

The other issue concerns local authorities. The statement uses the phrase ‘a suitably resourced democratically elected local education service’, but avoids the term ‘local authority’. Why? It looks like a concession to the pressure within the ‘education establishment’ to marginalise LAs in favour of a new ‘middle tier’. If a ‘local education service’ is meant to mean one not part of the rest of elected local government then say so – but it would result in separating education from other services affecting children, young people and families at a time when they need to be more integrated, not less.

The statement ends by saying ‘We hope there will indeed be politicians brave enough to challenge the “cosy consensus” and to develop an agenda for a truly democratic, inclusive and high quality education service.’ Hardly a vote of confidence in Tristram Hunt and the Labour leadership! The problem is, if they don’t sign up to these policies – and I would bet that the force of reason won’t be enough to persuade them – what is the plan B? The fact is that only a public country-wide grassroots campaign involving parents, teachers and everyone else is likely to exert enough pressure, which means that the Reclaiming Education Alliance organisations need to get out of London, organise local meetings and set up local groups in alliance with activists already on the ground.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 16:35

Richard - I completely agree with you. However there has to be a way of getting to where we want to be from where we are, so a step by step approach is needed. This is my suggestion for how it could be done.

1. Abolish Ofsted and replace it with an independent, directly employed HMI answerable directly to parliament (as Ofsted once falsely claimed it was).

2. Reform local government by recreating LEAs and Education Committees. A by-product would be the abolition of ‘Cabinet’ government so re-democratising and reinvigorating Local Government. At the same promote the creation of unitary LAs where possible.

3. Give the new LEAs regulatory power and responsibility over the admissions policies of all the schools in their area, including Academies and Free Schools, so as to promote balanced, all ability intakes. Something quite close to this has already come about in Hackney through voluntary agreements. The Hackney model is a good one. It is especially appropriate for urban areas
4. Produce a national funding formula for all schools, Academies, Free Schools and LEA schools alike.

5. Reform the powers and constitution of the governing bodies of all schools including Academies and Free schools with places reserved for elected teachers parents and local councillors, with safeguards created to stop organised groups gaining power through infiltration to promote narrow sectarian or religious objectives.

6. Require all schools to produce an annual prospectus to a specified template that includes the curriculum, behaviour and other policies including full exam results in the subject by subject, number of passes at each grade format, that used to required. Cease the publication of aggregated attainments (eg %5+A*-Cs or anything that may replace it) and so abolish school league tables. Abolish all general floor targets for schools.

7. Abolish KS2 SATs to be replaced by CATs taken in Y6 alongside other specific diagnostic, standardised assessments. DfE to continue to publish on the internet sound and valid technical data that it expects LEAs to use for the local inspections of all schools in its area.

8. HMI to conduct periodic inspections of all schools alongside LEA inspectors. LEA inspectors to provide CPD and school support for all schools (including Academies and Free Schools) with the help of HMI when requested.

9. HMI to inspect LEAs and Academy/Free School chains, all on the same basis.

10. Require parents’ referenda on the governance and control of Academy and Free schools if a threshold proportion of parents sign a petition according to a standard template. This would give local communities the democratic power to restore failing Academies to LEA control.

11. Create a permanent National Educational Commission with a carefully designed constitution with academic, professional and political appointments on a non-party basis to advise all forthcoming governments on education policy, and so take our schools out of politics.

Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair ruthlessly implemented policies for structural change in order to eventually privatise our public services. The 2010 Coalition government continued on the same path with renewed vigour. Courage and inspiration is now needed to repair the damage and to create a new model of social ownership, control and accountability. This especially applies to education. It would cost the taxpayer less by chopping away all the private sector for-profit parasites now enriching themselves from the public purse.

However, having set out my pitch, I recognise that others will disagree with at least some of it. We must beware of destructive factional disputes amongst ourselves. Peter Mortimore and John Bolt together with many others (especially the Slow Schools group) that post on LSN are part of a significant, informed, professional consensus. We agree on a lot more than we may have doubts about. The important thing is to get across to the media and the politicians that it is we and most of the rest of the world's education systems that are mainstream, and that Gove's marketisation driven neo liberalism represents an oddball faction which is failing everywhere it has been tried including here in England.

John Mountford's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 19:01

Roger, I am one who also agrees with Richard. Your 'step-by-step' approach looks workable and I wholeheartedly endorse your final statement - "The important thing is to get across to the media and the politicians that it is we and most of the rest of the world’s education systems that are mainstream, and that Gove’s marketisation driven neo liberalism represents an oddball faction which is failing everywhere it has been tried including here in England."

I have one concern over the use of LEA inspectors to provide CPD. This is something that, since successive central government administrations have done their best to dismantle local authorities, has decimated local schools' support structures. This has led many teachers to undertake their own school-based research in collaboration with other local colleagues for the benefit of their pupils, leading to improved pedagogical skills and sharper focus on teaching and learning. The faith that may once have rested in LEA's to deliver CPD has been weakened. Teachers are more skeptical than ever of 'experts' who no longer practice what they preach.

There is a role for newly formed LEAs in monitoring school effectiveness and to act as facilitators for professional development but I would want to see teachers given much greater freedom to innovate. Such a move would enhance their standing as professional educators.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 19:24

1. Ofsted is independent and there is no concrete evidence to the contrary. It is also noteworthy that many Section 5 Inspections are led by HMIs.

2. What checks and balances will there be to ensure the quality of these new organisations? Prior to Gove and Blair they were a patchwork quilt ranging from inept to outstanding.

3. I doubt this will stop a return to underhanded practices of some authorities who used to channel intake based on school performance and local electoral issues, which would be no better than what is currently claimed against chains and Free Schools

4. There already is a national formula and has been for a long time. The biggest drawback was the top slicing by local authorities. Indeed, it was this top slicing that Gove used as financial bait for the initial converters.

5. This could be my naivety showing through but I have always known schools to have teacher, parent and authority governors. This only changed with academies and free schools and even then they had the option to continue with the old formula.

6. Why not just scrap league tables and replace it with total transparency of results in all areas?

7. Concur use of CATs in Y6 (or 7) and suggest a repeat in Y9. Other than a phonics diagnostic assessment in Y2/3 I have no inkling as to what either the “other specific diagnostic, standardised assessments” or the valid technical data DfE expect LEAs to use, are?

8. This is questionable in terms of the consistency and quality of “LEA inspectors”. There needs to be a predetermined trigger to cause an HMI inspection rather than a pre-set cycle.

9. HMCI and the select committee are already pressuring for this.

10. Why only failing Academies and not give parents the right to vote on returning any Academy or Free School to public control?

11. This group needs to be responsible to and report to parliament. The basis already exists in terms of the cross party commons select committee on education.

I would prefer to also depoliticise the reasons for effecting the changes. With the exception of the LibDems participation and contribution since 2010, the negative impact on education and creeping marketization is firmly at the door of the two major parties. After-all a lot of the damage rests with the impact of seesaw party political ideologues and constant change brought about by general elections. I also urge people to review John Mountford’s website and petition at ‘’ and also the Pearson Group position at ‘Making Education Work’,

I note with disappointment the absence of any reference to moving away from high stakes testing at age 16 (GCSEs and equivalents) and move to a national network of all through schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 21:00


1) I meant Ofsted independent of DfE and reporting directly to parliament as it once claimed on its website. This would give Ofsted the same independence that Jeremy Hunt is giving CQC - a very good development.

5) I meant Academies and Free Schools. They tend to lack independent governors with the power and will to hold the Chief Executive/Executive Principal to account.

6) Because subject by subject results reveal the curriculum and who/how many pupils have access to it.

8) One of the roles of Ofsted and HMI would be to make sure LEAs DO appoint top quality inspector/advisors and that the poor ones get their act together. I agree that criteria for triggering inspections are needed but all schools should still get visits from time to time. This would be an LEA responsibility.

10) I agree with you.

11) Agreed, but the commission needs to consist mainly of educationalists. This is John Mountford's territory.

As for the rest I could be persuaded.

We are playing for the same team.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 21/04/2014 - 21:10

Andy - I have worked in 11-18, 11-16 + 6th form college and 11-14/14-18 systems. They all have their merits and can work well. 11-18 schools need to be big enough to run decent sixth forms. Sometimes smaller schools may be the best local model.

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