The Blunkett Manifesto – would it really “dismantle” Tory reforms?

Janet Downs's picture
The long-awaited review of education by David Blunkett was the subject of much media commentary yesterday. It was a pity, then, the actual report was so difficult to find. I like to read the small print before commenting – after all, Blunkett was the secretary of state who launched academies. And the Academies programme was mired in deception from the start.

Radical, it isn’t. But schools are punch-drunk from radical change – curriculum, exams, tests, EBacc (applied retrospectively), school performance measures, Ofsted, teacher training, academy conversion - education secretary Michael Gove has directed these reforms like the sorcerer’s apprentice.

What exactly, then, did Blunkett’s manifesto say?

The report has some good points:

1All teachers should be qualified or in training towards Qualified Teacher Status.

2The Schools Adjudicator’s role in monitoring schools admission criteria should be strengthened.

3Children should be entitled to a “basic programme of learning” through a “light-touch curriculum” with sufficient room for innovation at local level.

4Collaboration between schools should be encouraged.

5Ofsted should inspect academy chains.

But there are duff notes particularly the appointment of Directors for School Standards (DSS):

1These are supposed to “drive up performance”. But this drive towards ever-increasing performance has led to an excessive emphasis on exam results in England (OECD 2011) which risks negative consequences including gaming, grade inflation and teach to the test.

2Local authorities already have School Improvement departments – these are well-placed to support schools.

3Each DSS would plan school place supply and oversee competitions to provide new schools in a given area. Any organisation could bid to open a new school. But local authorities are missing from the list – it appears, then, LAs couldn’t open new community schools. They can make recommendations to their local DSS but the final decision would be with the latter, an undemocratically elected quango.

The report doesn’t rule out private sector providers of education. It only says they should be brought within a statutory framework. But when for-profit firms become involved in education, it isn’t being altruistic, it’s investment.

The Office of the Schools Commissioner should be strengthened, the report recommends, but that’s nothing more than a public relations department pushing academy conversion. Such a partisan office should be abolished not given more powers.

The report acknowledges the disintegration of careers advice in schools. But it only says an incoming government would find evidence to discover who should provide this advice. There appears to be no role for qualified, professional, independent careers advisers.

All schools should have the same freedoms as academies, the report says, but the Academies Commission concluded these freedoms don’t actually amount to much: non-academies can do most things academies can do.

The Telegraph said Labour would “dismantle Michael Gove’s education reforms”. That headline was inaccurate – it would cost billions to undo these. That’s why Gove pushed them through with unseemly haste – the cost of dismantling would be prohibitive.

Labour is right to attempt to bring schools under some kind of coherent local stewardship but appointing Directors for School Standards is not the way forward. The framework is already there in the form of local authorities who are well-placed to oversee schools and encourage collaboration.

The review missed an opportunity to tackle one area which does need radical reform: the outdated exam system. Most developed countries have graduation at 18 – it’s time England did the same. This shouldn’t happen overnight – pupils don’t need any more rushed, poorly-designed exams foisted on them without being trialled and evaluated. But Labour would be failing children if it didn’t promise to overhaul a system which makes English children some of the most examined and tested in the world.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 01/05/2014 - 16:07

These proposals would make the English education system much better than it is now. It is a better programme than any of the other political parties except the Greens. It is better than I expected from Blunkett.

There are, however, many worries as Janet points out. My chief concern relates to the posts of DSS. They are very powerful. Who appoints them? I don't like the idea of powerful Tsars or Commissioners. I can't see what is wrong with recreating LEAs with appropriate structures for local regulation and support for schools. To whom are DSS's answerable?

Is there to be any shared understanding of what 'good education' actually means or how it can be recognised?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 08:34

Roger - I got the impression that LAs were still being marginalised despite the rhetoric. Why say that unfederated, non-academy primaries should join Community Trust when they're already under the stewardship of LAs?

I share your distrust of DSSs. It was Labour after all which set up the Office of the Schools Commissioner which was always a cheerleader for academies. It would have been more honest to set up the Office of the Academies Commissioner rather than pretend the remit covered all schools.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 09:03

The DSS post is appointed by the LA, or by groups of LAs that choose to work together.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 09:22

Thanks, Fiona, for making that clear. I'd got the impression from the long report that DSSs would be appointed centrally and foisted on LAs.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 12:39

But from a list determined by the Secretary of State. I simply don't understand the logic of what Blunkett is proposing. Local authorities already have the skills and information to strategically plan educational provision in their areas - all they really need are the levers to be returned to them allow them to make changes to schools, whatever their category, to meet that need and the funding delegated to them to do so. The category of new schools should be determined through local consultation but decided by democratically elected representatives not political appointees from central government. I don't see what the DSS post does - except give a sop to Academies who have been given 'freedom' from local control.

agov's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 05:55

"The DSS post is appointed by the LA, or by groups of LAs that choose to work together"

Not exactly -

"The presumption would be for Local Authorities to join together to appoint a shared DSS across a local area or sub-‐region as this collaboration will help to raise standards and efficiencies whilst maintaining the local link."

"But from a list determined by the Secretary of State "

Not quite -

"This would be a statutory appointment made from a shortlist of candidates approved by the Office of the Schools Commissioner."

"I simply don’t understand the logic of what Blunkett is proposing."

The logic is to pretend to be changing Tory policies whilst actually retaining them. (- And thereby, entirely coincidentally no doubt, enlarge opportunities for fattening politician's bank balances with fees from 'consultancy' or 'advisory' roles with edu-businesses.)

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 06:49

agov - thanks for pointing out the list of approved DSSs would be "approved by the Office of the Schools Commissioner". We know the latter is just a mouthpiece for academies - its involvement in the appointment of DSSs should ring alarm bells. Any potential DSS who didn't put academies first wouldn't stand a chance of being appointed.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 10:32

agov and Janet, you are right. My first post was overly positive, although I was on track in recognising that the crucial flaw in the proposals lies with the DSS posts. You are right that as things are now, the OSC would require DSS applicants to support the current government (and opposition) view of academies, so nothing need change.

However, this does not mean that nothing WOULD change. Call it electoral politics if you like, but the ONLY chance of any change in the direction so many educationalists and some journalists (eg Simon Jenkins) want requires a Labour government post 2015.

So the issue for me is this. If Labour is elected in 2015 on this Blunkett education policy are we nearer to getting the educational reforms that are required? This depends on what happens in the meantime with respect to the level of understanding of educational matters of Ed Milliband and his close team, because whatever we think of the Blunkett plan it is still a possible stepping stone to something much better. If Labour becomes persuaded, the role and status of OSC could be changed, or better abolished altogether, making the DSS posts completely different. All that would be required would be for them to report directly to newly reinstated LEA Education Committees for them to become effective executive officers of the democratically elected LA. All this would be within the power of a new Labour government.

Therefore, as I have argued before, the only practical target for our energies is Ed Milliband and the Labour MPs likely to fill the top Cabinet positions in a new Labour government.

I quite understand the view of agov and Andy that this is a dirty business that is beneath them, but that is how democracy works.

If Labour is not elected then without Cleggers and Co, comparatively useless though they are, the newly empowered neo-liberal right will be able to destroy what's left of the education system not to mention the NHS and much else besides.

Therefore my efforts will be directed (through my forthcoming book and in as many other ways as possible including seeking to recruit a broad front of allies) towards ensuring that Labour politicians are educated as to the true nature of the current education system and how it needs to be changed.

I do feel that progress is being made here and that LSN is making a major contribution to which the odd 'nutter' posts only help by exposing their own absurdity.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 14:53

"I quite understand the view of agov and Andy that this is a dirty business that is beneath them, but that is how democracy works", wow and golly gosh, where did that new low level of personal snipe come from?!

I am amazed and aghast at you Roger. We have clubbed together to work with John Mountford and I have not raised any objection or counter argument to the drive to wrest education away from party politics or to support a template letter to MPs on his ordinaryvoices website. Indeed, I promoted the website and it aims through Linkedin, which John advised helped increase numbers signing the petition. I have also forwarded my views of the Pearson Groups report and suggestions directly to them. I could go on but won't because it clearly doesn't cut any ice with you.

You will I trust understand then when I say that your comment was inaccurate, intemperate and uncalled for. So much for collaboration, eh! :-(

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 15:29

Andy - I am really sorry - I meant no offence at all. I agree with everything you have written on this thread. You wrote,

" Full of pre-election rhetoric and posturing but like a classic chocolate Easter egg hollow in the middle."

I agree with that too!

I am just making the argument that regardless of the truth of what you and others are saying about the Blunkett proposals, in my view they could be a staging post to something much better from a Labour government. I didn't mean anything personal or hostile at all.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 15:42

Roger, Then I politely suggest that you ensure accordance with the old adage, say what you mean and mean what you say. The onus is on the author to impart what they mean. It is not for the receiver to wrestle with understanding the message and its intention. To be clear, there is nothing in this struggle that is beneath me.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 16:46

Right. Understood. Sorry again.

agov's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 07:20

"All that would be required would be for them to report directly to newly reinstated LEA Education Committees for them to become effective executive officers of the democratically elected LA. "

Something that would likely be hindered, impossible, or ineffective when the DSS is appointed "across a local area or sub-‐region" - which is probably exactly why that model is specified.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 09:18

agov - Yes of course, the areas of responsibility would have to be re-designated by LA boundaries. And yes, there is much work to be done with the Labour leadership whose timidity in educational matters is rooted in a false belief in the popularity of league tables, Academies and Free Schools with parents and the public. This belief is fragile and the cracks keep appearing and growing. One of the biggest problems has long been the gullibility of the mainstream media, but this seems to me to be on the turn. However most journalists are lazy as Henry and Janet have regularly shown through their analyses of the appallingly dishonest DfE press releases that are still uncritically accepted. The true facts and arguments need to be spoon-fed to them.

There is a growing consensus on the part of educationalists about what is wrong and what needs to be done. That is the relatively easy bit. The energies of all of us are limited so it is important that they are directed as effectively as possible. Other than targeting the Labour Party I would be interested in what agov proposes in getting his analysis (which I agree with) understood and accepted by the wider public who are the consumers of the increasingly marketised (failing) system and who will be casting their votes in a year's time.

One problem for me is the clear evidence that what goes on in Academies is infecting many LA schools. You only have to note the increasing use of the term 'executive' in LA school senior job titles and the degree of 'gaming' with the curriculum to see this happening. Therefore it is not a case of Academies/Free Schools bad, LA schools good, but that the marketised system itself is unfit for purpose and is a continuous source of perverse incentives that corrupt, corrode and devalue even the accepted meaning of education.

For me this is the key message. It is not one that the Conservative Party, UKIP or the Lib Dems under Cleggers will have the slightest interest in. That leaves the Labour Party (minus the Blairites that got us into this mess).

Andy V's picture
Thu, 01/05/2014 - 16:11

For me, and in minimalist terms, there is a huge report that will do nothing other than skate around the edges of what has happened.

Yes, it promises to strengthen the admissions adjudicators role (and perhaps even powers but this is a big 'perhaps')

Yes, it will attempt to reinvent and relaunch LEAs but, and it is a big but, only in terms of monitoring and intervening/supporting school performance. All other aspects remain unchanged e.g. Academy and Frees School curricular freedoms and contracts of employment and remuneration.

Yes, it will make all taxpayer funded schools answerable to the revamped LEAs but only for pupil performance (see above)

Thereafter it sticks to the previously announced Labour position that if elected they will not repeal any of Gove's policies and, yes, Janet is spot on, it does absolutely nothing about leagues tables, says nothing about the looming linkage between GCSEs and PISA test, does nothing about replacing the high value mid point examinations (GCSEs) and replacing them with an end of compulsory education diploma style qualification.

All in all a rather disappointing bland fudge notable for its missed opportunities. It does not address the issues at the heart of education.

Full of pre-election rhetoric and posturing but like a classic chocolate Easter egg hollow in the middle.

John Mountford's picture
Thu, 01/05/2014 - 21:11

Not much to add to the comments so far (but, I will anyway)! Same old response in the face of a clear challenge to undo the damage done to education over the last three decades in particular. How could anyone have realisitically hoped for more from the Labour Party? It is one of the 'big' players in British politics with a lot to answer for. However, as any intelligent commentator would agree, more of the same from our political leaders is all we will get. This is the reason why the cacophony of demands for a change to the governance of education must be acted upon.

I urge anyone with a child or grandchild in education today and others with children about to enter the service to press for an end to the political control of education. I actually believe that anyone with an interest in ensuring that education meets the needs of future citizens should be demanding such a change, not least of all taxpayers.

With a general election in the offing, this would be the ideal time to put pressure on serving MP's to ensure that education reforms have to be planned over the long-term. With such reform utterly determined by the re-cycling of Secretaries of State for Education (average term in post of two years over the last three decades), leaving the system as it is is not a responsible option. I discuss this at length at

I am not alone in calling for the establishment of some sort of national commission for education to work with education professionals and newly envigorated local education authorities in order to build locally accountable provision. The desire, indeed the need, for politicians to introduce short-term policies in the interests of their careers is irresistible. Education is far too important a public service to continue to languish under the archaic system that exists currently.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 09:46


"This is the reason why the cacophony of demands for a change to the governance of education must be acted upon."

Yes John I agree, but if not by Labour by whom? There was a time (long ago) when Conservatives and Lib Dems (not so long ago - think Charles Kennedy) could be found to support this view. Butler, the creator of the 1944 Education Act, was one such Conservative. They are an extinct species.

The Butler Education Act was deliberately designed to raise education above politics. It was a reaction to what happened in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union in terms of the appalling consequences when ideological governments control every detail of what is taught to children in schools and by what methods. Gove's all-embracing and controlling DfE and associated quangocracy is clearly and alarmingly well down this path, the gate to which was opened by Thatcher, Blair and Blunkett.

That is why the recreation and empowering of LEAs is so important. It is true that when educationalists are in control then the culture of education always tend to drift to what Gove sees as the left. This is true. It is because the theory and practice of education, as subject to rational analysis and evidence, always leads in that general direction.

Skinner's behaviourism has long been comprehensively rejected by academics, not because of political views, but because its tenets are false and have been disproved, and by teachers because they do not work in terms of bringing about deep learning. Piaget, Vygotsky and Kahneman (and other proponents of child-centred developmentalism) are right - the current resurrectors of behaviourism are wrong.

Who says so? Internationally almost everybody.

These true arguments are not populist and are often counter-intuitive, but they are the currency of the debate that has to take place in England.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 01/05/2014 - 21:19

To adapt the old quote about Nero and Rome: Labour and Blunkett fiddled and tinkered while education continued to suffer erosion and dysfunction.

Nothing short of taking education out of the hands of party political ideologues and the ensuing rendering apart election upon election will stop the rot and enable a new and robust approach.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 00:28

Congratulations Andy you now understand what Gove has done by making schools autonomous entities and severing the grip of mafia unions and craven thicko politicians

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 08:54

Oh Dear Ben, Gove has enslaved schools within the grip of an all-controlling mafia government, which understands nothing about education, while robbing parents and taxpayers of any democratic control over the schools they pay for through their taxes which he siphons off to fund his ideological fantasies.

agov's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 09:18

Typical useless Blunkett.

Seems he wants substantial change in the way governors do their work while being clueless about what governors do.

Wants to work with the NGA, a membership organisation whose desire or ability to even represent the views of its own members is unclear and which is often derided by non-members.

Doesn't seem to know that schools have complaints procedures.

Apparently wants to bring back the pointless and ridiculous annual governors meeting with parents.

Not clear that he knows governors can already ask their employers for time off to undertake governor duties.

Flirts with paying some governors, just like Wilshaw and Gove.

Unclear whether he is aware that data dashboards are publicly available on the web.

Typical NuLab rubbish of 'this might sound good with voters, so we'll say a bit of this and that about it, but mostly ignore the important things and not be too specific, because really we mostly agree with the Tories; and we can ignore it all anyway as soon as we get elected'.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/05/2014 - 10:43

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, also has misgivings about Directors for School Standards.

John Mountford's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 22:15

In plain language, all we have from the major opposition party going into the next general election is waffle layered with such bland undertakings that any voter who swallows it on the basis of Blunket's recommendations will be wishing they hadn't and in double quick time.

Roger is probably right about the need for a Labour victory, if only to let the other lot know that what they have done to education alone renders them 'enemies of democracy'. However, as he and others have said, unless the Labour Party is properly educated about what an effective education actually looks like and undertake to work towards building the same, we might as well vote for our favourite party by virtue of the colour of their logo!!

What this latest response from the political classes tells us is that they are still incapable of listening to the voices of ordinary people. Andy had it right, "Nothing short of taking education out of the hands of party political ideologues and the ensuing rendering apart election upon election will stop the rot and enable a new and robust approach."

The danger is that we will be lulled into a false sense that anything is better than more of the same. What we are desperate for is a complete new approach to the national governance of education. What we get by way of a national education service, fit for purpose, can no longer be tied in to changes to the party in power for the next five years. Education is far too important and also too expensive for that and moreover, if anyone should get profit out of spending on education, IT HAS TO BE OUR YOUNG PEOPLE!!!

agov's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 07:16

"The danger is that we will be lulled into a false sense that anything is better than more of the same."

Especially when it is more of the same.

Richard Hatcher's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 09:27

•The role of the DSS is unnecessary and should be opposed. All of the DSS’s functions could be carried out by reformed, resourced and democratised Local Authorities (or partnerships of LAs in the case of small LAs), with oversight by an independent HMI as appropriate.

•The continuation of any distinct status for academies, and in particular the continuation of control of schools by academy chains run by private organisations, should be opposed.

•Adequate funding must be made available to LAs and schools to support comprehensive local systems of school collaboration and support.

•The idea of Local Education Panels should be supported as potentially providing a structure for local democratic participation by all relevant stakeholders in local strategic education policy-making. Local Citywide Learning Bodies should be opened up to participation in a similar way.

The belief that reasoned argument by education professionals will substantially influence the Labour leadership to abandon the Blunkett Review proposals is an illusion. The only chance of doing to is to create a movement of mass pressure not just from teachers but from parents, governors, local councillors and the wider community.

If the Review’s proposals for Directors of School Standards are implemented by a Labour government, the question is, where does power lie, with the DSS or with local elected government and the stakeholders in the local school system?

•Local Authorities must ensure that Directors of School Standards, who are employees of LAs, act as officers of LAs, responsible for carrying out LA policy, not as dictators over LAs. To achieve this LAs should establish powerful Education Committees with lay participation as well as elected members.

•In the case of DsSS covering more than one LA the LAs should establish a joint Education Committee tasked with ensuring that the DSS is directed by and responsible to it.

•LAs should establish Local Education Panels, properly resourced and democratically structured to ensure the maximum participation of parents, teachers, heads, governors, elected representatives of the wider community and other stakeholders, capable of developing a strategic plan for the local education system and shaping the work of the DSS, who should be accountable to it.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 10:45

Richard - Yes, I agree with all of that, including the need for organised pressure from parents/public.

"If the Review’s proposals for Directors of School Standards are implemented by a Labour government, the question is, where does power lie, with the DSS or with local elected government and the stakeholders in the local school system?"

That is indeed the crucial question, but it is only of relevance if there is a Labour government to ask it of.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 12:08

Roger, Based on the substantial rejection of regional governance by the NE - 78% said, no - in 2004 under the last Labour government I am not convinced that a vote for independence in Scotland will trigger a dash by the NE to join an independent Scotland:

agov, here's the link again. Hope it works this time:

agov's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 06:41

The difficulty Roger is that you keep maintaining that one bit of the liblabcons is different and better than the other bits. Why? In effect this report by Blunkett yet again makes clear that there is no real difference.

As you are such a keen student of voting you will be aware of a different vote in September this year. In Scotland. When and if Scotland goes, as seems increasingly likely though not yet certain, you can say goodbye to any prospect of the government of your fancies. Putting all your eggs in one basket may have only short term value.

I'd be more guided by Richard's advice if I was you.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 07/05/2014 - 17:54

Andy - That was then, a long time ago, but a 'yes' vote in the Scottish referendum will change everything.

agov's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:38

Sorry Andy, I must have missed this.

The link didn't work as such but by doing a 'Save target as' I got the article's title and by Googling that I found the article itself - yay!

Despite Roger's optimism I'd say this is the killer quote from the article -

"One Labour adviser said: “We can’t even contemplate what might happen to the party if Scotland went. This is nightmare territory for us.”"

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 08:56

agov - I completely agree with Richard but what he proposes can only come about after the election of a government willing to adopt the policies.

In matters other than education Ed Miliband has been radical and bold in ways that distinguish him completely from Cameron and Cleggers. Two very significant examples come to mind. Ed was the only one not afraid to directly take on the Murdoch empire, and without Ed's intervention we would have become disastrously militarily involved in the Syria conflict. Only post Ed's Commons intervention, have we become fully aware of the deep unpleasantness of what is going on there on both sides.

Yes Labour is still too timid and too sensitive about rejecting its Blairite inheritance but a lot of (in my judgement) policies that are both sound and electorally popular are now emerging.

It is in education that the greatest policy weaknesses lie. I do put this down in general to ignorance and ignorance can be addressed if arguments are listened to and I think this is slowly beginning to happen. The change in approach of the Guardian, not long ago a completely uncritical cheerleader of Academies, is significant.

I too expect the Scots to vote for independence but I do not believe that the damage to the prospects for a future Labour government are as certain or severe as you suggest. It could well lead to a degree of devolution to the English regions that completely changes the political landscape. It is also possible that Scotland's completely different, non corporatist, approach to its public services (especially the NHS) will be shown to be both affordable and to work, giving popular English credence to the Scot's democratic socialist model.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 13:22

agov, The Financial Times lends support to the view that an independent Scotland would cost Labour 40 seats in the House and only 1 for the Conservatives. It estimate that Labour would need a minimum 250,000 extra votes to win a general election and have a working majority:

Andy V's picture
Wed, 07/05/2014 - 18:12

I acknowledge your optimism.

However, in discussion with friends in Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth, Newcastle and a long term partner just outside Durham (with her friendship network) since the speculation of joining an independent Scotland was first mooted some months ago, their opinion hasn't changed. It also appears that the is also the position of their friendship circles.

While I accept that anything can happen, I personally I wouldn't put money on it. We'll both just have to bide our time and wait and see.

Perhaps Berwick will declare UDI or Scottish speaking separatists will annex the locality ... :-D

Andy V's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:45

agov, absolutely. There are fewer more telling comments than those coming from someone on the inside track. In 2010 there were 41 Labour MPs in the House from Scottish constituencies v 1 for the Conservatives. It is, then, not difficult at all to comprehend the massive problems of replacing them from within the rUK post a vote for independence.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 09:42

I feel compelled to disagree over Ed Miliband whether it be on the economy, deficit reduction or Syrian intervention. The latter has arisen on an earlier LSN thread when the same hero status was proposed for the Labour Leader.

Ed's initial foray was in the form of an amendment to the government's proposition and this was:

1. Roundedly defeated
2. Was not against military intervention rather it added additional criteria prior to any action

"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."

It is also accurate to reflect on the fact that MPs on all sides of the House remembered the outright deceit perpetrated by Blair with his plagarised intelligence document shared with the House immediately before the vote of invading Iraq alongside Bush Jnr:

"Downing Street yesterday apologised for its failure to acknowledge that much of its latest dossier on Iraq was lifted from academic sources, as the affair threatened to further undermine confidence in the government's case for disarming Saddam Hussein.
MPs and anti-war groups were quick to protest that other features of Whitehall's information campaign are suspect at a time when MI6 and other intelligence agencies are privately complaining at the way No 10 has been over-egging intelligence material on Iraq."

For me it is striking that just as when Blair came to office in '97, Miliband is mirroring the rhetoric of keeping the coalition financial policies and budget in place if he is elected. Ed Balls has already stated unequivocally that they (Labour) will not reverse key changes to social security benefits. Additionally, they waffle around when asked to confirm how they will pay for the job guarantee for younger unemployed, which was initially floated in the spring as for the first year of office only and then rapidly changed to the term of the government following intense criticism from the media and NGOs.

I am sick of all political parties and their attitude to education and hence will not be satisfied until it is wrested from them. I accept that there are two principal ways of approaching this through the ballot box:

1. Vote for the party of your choice and try to get them to change - but let us not forget power seduces and corrupts and power leads to control

2. Amass a big enough electoral voice that says we won't vote for you unless ...

I know which one gets my vote and it most certainly isn't one that perpetuates the status quo.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:24

Andy - You clearly have strong views that you are fully entitled to and there is no point in us debating them here. However on Syria, the government sought House of Commons approval for military action in Syria in support of the USA. However it came about, Ed Milliband's intervention was crucial in this support not being forthcoming and therefore military action in Syria was avoided.

The contrast with Blair and Iraq could not be clearer.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:45

Andy - However I am wracking my brain to see where your approach to politics leads in relation to the future of our education system.

A Conservative majority government will take Gove's marketisation agenda further allowing 'for profit' education companies to run chains of schools that will eventually take over all schools.

There won't be more than a handful of Lib Dem MPs.

As far as it is possible to tell, UKIP policy on all public services amounts to privatisation. They also want to restore selection at 11 for grammar schools.

The Greens have education policies closest to mine and possibly also yours but if they get one MP they will be lucky.

Best wishes.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:50

Roger, we both have strong views on Syria. I was incredibly pleased that the government lost the vote. Pleased, at that time, for the Syrian people and avoidance of another opportunity for Russia and the US to flex their political muscle and military might. That the government lost the vote was not down to EM:

1, Prior to vote EM gave every indication that he and Labour would support the government.
2. EM then morphed into his own amendment that would impose stiffer criteria but didn't say, no. Rather EM's position became on of, if the criteria aren't met then, yes, use military force.
3, The House resoundingly voted EM's amendment down
4. EM then whipped Labour to vote against the government
5. Cameron and the government then accused EM of playing politics over Syria

When the immediate dust settled internal Labour party unhappiness began to surface:

"MPs have privately begun to voice concerns that their leader made a catastrophic mistake by engineering the defeat of the Government’s motion in the House of Commons on Thursday night.
Meanwhile senior figures inside the Government accused the Labour leader of “stark raving hypocrisy”, “dishonourable behaviour” and “putting his party before the national interest”.
Ministerial aides said that Mr Miliband consistently gave the impression of a series of days that he would back a “consensual” approach with the Government, only to suddenly change his mind."

This hardly a case of Miliband coming to the rescue of the Syrian people. Neither can the suspicions of MPs post the Iraq deceit be ignored. It played a significant part in the outcome.

I fear you may have misunderstood my connection between Blair and Miliband. The latter was in relation to his position if elected in 2015. He and Balls have made it abundantly clear that they will not changed the economic strategies and other are saying there is little between Labour and Conservatives.

This resonates very strongly with Blair in 1997 whose position was the same. Indeed, at the time Blair was accused of stealing the Tory's clothes (policies).

"Mr Howard also admits to being frustrated by the task he faces because the prime minister - whose winning talent is to "look and sound like a Tory" he says - succeeded in persuading voters in 1997 "that he was a politician like there has never been. People feel completely taken in and deceived."

Andy V's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:57

Roger, Think about the impact the formation of the 'grey vote' lobby has had. If a group can be formed and make its voice heard to the extent that MPs fear for the safe of their seats and thus parties fear for their electoral chances then, and only then, do MPs and parties listen to the voters.

A vote for Labour in the hope of getting them to change once elected with a majority is, well ...

A vote for the Conservatives and we can guess that it will be more of the same

A lobby group threatening to withhold their vote or vote for another party (but please not the Lib-Dems) and watch the parties take note. Marginal and swing seats etc.

I am perhaps not as politically naive as some may assume.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 14:12

Andy - Such a lobby group would be most welcome. My question is how would such a very large group become sufficiently well informed?

Andy V's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 14:20

Perhaps through perseverance in raising the profile of such a group using tools such as a web presence, presence on social media, links to other interested groups (e.g. mumsnet), a piece on the Guardian's Secret Teacher and in the TES, open letters to national newspapers. Essentially use these tools as a form of market research to gauge receptivity and if sufficient numbers are reached then start lobbying politicians individually and the parties directly and through the live media (locally radio and TV).

agov's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 09:41

Unfortunately that link seems to go to the front page of the FT and I can't find the actual article. Seems about right though.

Although, so I gather, most analyses show that most previous election results would have been the same but with smaller majorities (but see link below) that assumes there would not be other changes, which I think unlikely. There is a widespread expectation that without Scotland (especially if that then leads to Wales also going) there would be permanent Conservative government.

Roger optimistically suggests that a new English dynamic might arise resulting in devolution to the English regions and, presumably, English Tory supporters deciding to vote for a Labour party of a type he would approve of. The first half of this -

indicates that Labour might still be able to form a government but only by becoming even more Blairite then it already is.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 11:12

As agov points out analysis of previous general election results show that Labour would still have won all those that it did win but with reduced majorities. Anything else is just speculation. If things turn out as gloomy as Andy and agov suggest then we will have a Ukraine type scenario hopefully without the violence. The northern regions will seek to succeed to Scotland, or achieve sufficient devolution of powers not to worry about the nature of the southern English government. It is important to note that the SNP's brand of democratic socialism has little in common with the bureaucratic large scale monolithic nationalisations of the past. It is about what works. The evidence is mounting in England that the Thatcher/Blair privatisation and marketisation model for public services just lowers standards in a race to the bottom, while deskilling the workforce and costing the taxpayer more. It doesn't work. The state has a role to play as many Conservatives in the past have recognised including Churchill, Macmillan, Eden, Heath, Heseltine and Clarke. Recognition of this shows the clear distinction between Ed Miliband and the liblabcons. He is also showing that when properly thought out and presented, this is overwhelmingly popular with voters.

This is not a Party Political Broadcast, just speculation about a very uncertain future.

agov's picture
Wed, 07/05/2014 - 12:14

Not 'all' Roger. You should have looked at the link -

""At two elections - 1964 and 1974 - Labour would not have won without Scottish votes. And at the last election, David Cameron would have gained an overall majority if Scotland's votes had been excluded," Aaronovitch wrote."

Have to say this "overwhelmingly popular with voters" bit seems optimistic. If that were so surely the NuLab opinion poll lead (- when it exists) would be far bigger.

I hope you are right about all this. Personally I'm thinking more of Syria. With the violence.

Richard Hatcher's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 07:27

The Blunkett Review confuses very different meanings of Community Trusts

The Blunkett Review advocates Community Trusts, but it uses the term to mean several very different things. (Thanks to David Pavett for pointing this problem out.) One meaning, referred to in my initial response, is as an umbrella term for a permanent collaborative grouping of schools with the legal status of a Trust (usually a non-profit company with charitable status). Many such Trusts already exist, including the more than 500 schools in Co-operative Trusts and those in Multi-Academy Trusts. Collaboration among schools has been shown to be the most effective way to raise standards, and the proposed Community Trusts are one possible form of permanent collaborative structure. The only objection would be if LAs put undue pressure on schools to join a Trust if they were performing well and chose not to.

The Review speaks of:
the creation of Community Trusts to bring together small primary schools where they are not already part of a sponsor or partnership structure. (p6)

And again:
Where a large number of secondary schools in a Local Authority area have not chosen to take on academy status, it would be open to them to combine into a Community Trust in order to foster the collaborative approach set out in this paper. (p11)

And again:
The Community Trust model Community schools not currently part of a federation, multi Academy or sponsor framework should be encouraged to join a partnership, including through the creation of our Community Trust model. This review recommends that, where this does not already exist (or where the school in question cannot demonstrate alternative forms of partnership working), the Local Authority should broker the combining of all community primary schools into broad Community Trust arrangements. Much as arms‐length management organisations have been a model adopted in relation to social housing, Community Trusts would be established in partnership with the relevant Local Authority. This proposal is set out in detail in the chapter on 'Best Practice'. This would clearly meet the needs of very small schools and would help protect them from the threat of closure. (p10)

But the ‘Best Practice’ section of the review contains three very different models of what it regards as a Community Trust.

The first model comprises various and rather different forms of collaborative partnerships.

One is the Wolverhampton Schools’ Improvement Partnership, which is an authority-wide voluntary partnership of schools to foster collaboration for ‘school improvement’. There is no ‘Community Trust’, though a charitable company limited by guarantee could well be set up, as it has in other authorities with similar partnerships.

Another example cited is the Bradford Partnership. This is an authority-wide not-for-profit organisation open to all the secondary schools in Bradford, owned by its member schools, with LA involvement, with the purpose of coordinating collaborative support. Similar schools-led authority-wide partnerships have been set up in a number of authorities.

Another case cited is Wigan, where ‘the Local Authority assisted in brokering collaboration of 130 schools through eight consortia. Each has developed its own leadership and is commissioned to deliver school improvement on behalf of the authority, which in turn holds the consortia to account.’ (p22). But there is no ‘Community Trust’, just clusters of schools working together.

Also cited is ‘Challenge Partners, a group of 180 schools focused on improvement in London, which grew out of the London Challenge’ (p22). This is a charitable company limited by guarantee comprising a nation-wide collaborative network of schools, currently 230.

But the other two examples given of Trusts are very different: they aren’t collaborative networks of schools, they are service delivery organisations providing traded support services to schools. This is the model referred to by the Review on p15: ‘A Community Trust model has worked in many areas effectively, in both providing the right services to raise standards, conducted in line with the best possible procurement practice.’ The Review gives two examples of ‘Best Practice’ of this model:

‘Herts for Learning (HfL) is a not-for-profit schools company established between the Local Authority and Hertfordshire schools providing a wide range of school improvement and business support services.’ (p22)

The second example is the Hackney Learning Trust. The Review says: ‘In 2002, the Hackney Learning Trust took over education services. Learning Trust staff were staff of Hackney Council – a devolved department, with its own freedoms and flexibilities, but still very much part of the wider organisation.’ (p22). But this is only half the story. What it fails to say is that, to quote the Hackney Learning Trust website, ‘When The Learning Trust contract expired in August 2012, Hackney Learning Trust assumed responsibility for education services in the borough...’. The Trust is now just the name given, for the sake of continuity, to the education department of Hackney Council. Far from being an example of the handing over by a local authority of education policy, services and support to the schools it is an example of a local authority taking them back in-house from a Trust.

What are the key points to take from this confused picture of one of the Review’s principal policies?

First, that the authors of the Review have a very poorly worked out idea of what they are proposing, based on inadequate knowledge of what is actually happening.

Second, that collaboration among schools should be supported, and it can take a variety of organisational forms.

Third, that the key issue is where does the responsibility for the local strategic vision and plan lie? There is a grave danger, exemplified by a number of local authorities including Birmingham and Liverpool, of LAs handing over this responsibility, which should be that of elected local government in partnership with the schools and other stakeholders including parents and governors, to local headteachers alone.

Finally, on a different issue: schools being free to leave academy chains and other sponsors. There is a huge obstacle: the majority of governors are appointed by the sponsor. It is likely to require campaigns by parents and staff to force them, similar to those against becoming academies in the first place.

agov's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 10:03

Thank you for that Richard: well researched and worth reading.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 10:48

Thank you Richard - very helpful. There is clearly a lot to play for in terms of the proposals. I am not aware of any of the other Parties making any proposals as potentially acceptable as these or being remotely likely to in the future.

On your last point, I have proposed that parents of children in Academies and Free Schools should be given a statutory right to a formal ballot on whether to join the new post Labour victory LA system. This could be triggered by a threshold number of names on a formal petition. Something like this already exists in the case of grammar schools. It is democratic, does the job and would be a vote winner.

We are only ever going to get step by step change. It has to evolutionary in the formal Darwinian sense of that term. Each small step has to bring its own worthwhile improvement. In a democracy each step has to have popular support. A succession of such small steps produces a new organ (eg the human eye) or even (hopefully) a new species (the end of Academies, marketisation and league tables). Yes there is a mountain to climb, but the first necessary step is to analyse the mountain as a whole and discern a possible route to the summit taking due advantage of the weaknesses in its defences.

Without underestimating the difficulties such a small step at a time progression in Labour Party and hopefully Labour government policy could do the business.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 16:32

Blunkett's latest wheeze trailed in the Sunday Times (ie not announced properly yet) is to pay private school teachers to teach online courses to state pupils with "aptitude" for such things as Mandarin and the classics.

But it isn't necessary for young pupils who want to learn these subjects (rather than being forced to learn them in addition to all the other stuff they learn during school time) to be paired with teachers from private school teachers. It's already available free. The BBC has an online course in basic Chinese.

Classics For All gives grants to state schools to encourage the teaching of Latin and The Iris Project is also an excellent source:

Perhaps politicians should do a little basic research before launching yet another unnecessary initiative.

agov's picture
Wed, 07/05/2014 - 12:19

And today brings us this -

I'm guessing he really, really wants someone to give him a job.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 07/05/2014 - 12:37

Typical behaviour of a self serving politician. In terms of education he completely ignores the significantly positive and decorous activities of both ASCL and NAHT. At a democratic employees personal choice level he appears to want to shackle the rights of teachers to band together and act as a collective body to protect their workplace rights.

This begs the question, when will he cross the floor of the House and out himself as a Conservative.

I may not agree with a deal of what NASUWT, NUT and ATL say but I defend their right to articulate it. For me a better strategy would be review ways in which the members of the unions were required to have a more active role in their union, and require a minimum requirement of the total membership voting For/Against motions. The latter would not the activists from determining what happens on a majority vote (e.g. 95% voting for at conferences is not 95% of the total membership). That way teachers on the ground would be in control (e.g. if less than, say, 55 or 66% of total membership actively vote For a proposal then it is considered defeated).

I make no apology is that sounds Conservative. Between my experience working on supply, as an interim and the views of friends in the profession there is a marked difference between staying home on a strike day to avoid being blackballed / labelled as scabs and actively agreeing and voting, yes.


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