Let’s help Jeremy Corbyn build a movement for education

Alasdair Smith's picture
For the first time ever, there is a Labour Party leader who is fully committed to comprehensive, democratic and progressive education. Whilst it opens up an exciting range of new opportunities, these come at a time when the key issues in education are set to be dominated by austerity, not just privatisation. Our children face years of austerity with deep cuts in education and other aspects of the welfare state.

There can be no doubt that what got Jeremy Corbyn elected was the anti-austerity social movement. The shabby political elite and their media hacks in the Westminster bubble could not see it coming and can still barely understand it. But we need to recognise that something fundamental has changed. There is a new movement of people – of hundreds of thousands of people - who have broken from the Westminster consensus.

For the moment at least, this movement has some momentum and can have a huge impact. Therefore it is essential that our work is focused on how to support and educate this new movement. Many ‘Corbynistas’ will be clear in their anti-austerity politics, their anti-war commitment and probably on the NHS and rest of welfare state. But we can’t take for granted that they will have a clearly thought out perspective on education.

The Blair years have permanently scarred the education landscape, muddying the waters on not only the aims of education but on the best ways of educating our children. At their behest, they created the Trojan horse that opened the way for extensive privatisation and deregulation. Blair and Adonis carry a heavy responsibility for this, and for undermining the Labour Party’s credibility with educational professionals and parents. Resolving this mess will require some hard thinking. Lucy Powell’s announcement signalling a change of direction is therefore very welcome news. It is a step in the right direction.

But there at least four more years of Tory attacks to come. There can be no question of waiting around to let the Tories dismantle even more of the state system. Although over 60% of secondary schools are now academies, less than 20% of primaries are. Nicky Morgan has made clear her intention that every school is an academy by the end of the parliament. The new Education & Adoption Bill will ‘remove barriers’ to conversion (actually there were no barriers except campaigners!)

Meanwhile record numbers of academies are failing, the cost of conversion is robbing other schools of precious resources and two huge crises are on the horizon. The shortage of school places – more than 11,000 new primary schools are needed by 2024 – and the looming shortage of teachers will have a massive impact on the next four years. When, coupled with real cuts in school budgets, it is likely that the key issues in education will be austerity and funding.

That’s why Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a National Education Service makes sense. As Eddie Playfair argues, it is something that we need to consider very seriously. The AAA has argued for at least two years that we need a ‘National Campaign for Education’ that takes up all the issues and provides a positive alternative to GERM (the Global Education Reform Movement).

But whatever the movement for a better education is called, we need to work together to help the process of building a ‘new cadre for comprehensive education’. It would help if we had a shadow cabinet that would lead the fight against neo-liberal education, but for the moment it is not clear how far they will go. What is clear is that there are hundreds of thousands of new, often young, people who will be looking for better ideas on education. Our job is educate them.

But in all the excitement we should not forget that the neo-liberal GERM ideology has sunk deep roots. There are a few rotten individuals who have profited, but the real threats are the edu-business empires. ARK, the Harris Federation and the likes of Reach 2 now have immense political power over education policy through intimate links to Tory ministers and other corporate connections.

Then there are many individual head teachers of academies have become small businessmen or women seeking to build their own empires through multi-academy trusts. They have, in many cases, neutered their governing bodies and eliminated any vestiges of democratic accountability. They will form a serious barrier to change.

In contrast, Corbyn’s goal is to make the ideas of comprehensive, progressive and democratic education the key ideas of a National Education Service and to make that hegemonic across education and wider society. That’s hope. That’s something worth fight for.
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David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 09:53


To start with a nit pick.

I suspect that to many of the readers of this site the Anti Academies Alliance to which you refer, in passing, in your post will be familiar. Likewise many of the readers will know of the hard work you have done as the National Secretary of the AAA. However not all will, and it leaves you open to one of those tedious "argumentum ad hominem" attacks, in which it is implied that you were concealing something. A something which is actually public record, and in fact, gives your "call to action" its proper context.

So my friendly advice is that you should have included that information in your post, even though you may have felt it too well known to be worth the bother of specifying it.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 10:04

You seemed to me to make four really important points which I would like to highlight one by one.


"The shortage of school places – more than 11,000 new primary schools are needed by 2024"

We know that what will really exercise parents is an "absolute" shortage of school places, that is when they have no place for their child within reasonable distance.

(When they have an offer of a place, but would prefer not to take THAT offer, well that is a different problem)

The issue here which might (as well as ought) concern parents is NOT going to be whether the school is a community school or an academy or a Free School, but whether they have a school at all.

They also ought to be very concerned at Free Schools being set up, at a time of restricted budgets, in areas where they are not needed when there are areas without schools at all.

But there are difficulties in getting this across to people (I have tried). Its partly because the link between parents in, say, Lewisham, having no school for their child, with millions being committed to Whitehall Park School in North Islington where there is a local surplus of places is a difficult one to make clear and explicit.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 10:07


" The looming shortage of teachers will have a massive impact on the next four years."

Actually the "looming shortage" is of QUALIFIED teachers. It is no accident, surely, that Academies and Free Schools are able to employ unlimited numbers of un qualified teachers.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 10:14


"When, coupled with real cuts in school budgets, it is likely that the key issues in education will be austerity and funding."

I am very concerned about this.

Its not just school budgets, which I posted about here:


Its also that over this parliament Islington's (for example) council budget will fall to one third of what it was in 2010, clearly this wall have a direct impact on Council services in general, but will have additional knock on effects for schools, by increasing costs. For example Islington used to provide Legal services for Islington Community Schools, it no longer does that as part of the cuts, so schools must pay for legal advice themselves.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 10:24


"ARK, the Harris Federation and the likes of Reach 2 now have immense political power over education policy through intimate links to Tory ministers and other corporate connections."

Indeed. Significant corporate vested interests have been created. They will have support in sections of the press, and the ability to hire lobbyists, and PR firms.

In a number of areas we have seen what happens when a Free School has a government grant to pay for public relations and marketing. Community schools have no such grant....

"Then there are many individual head teachers of academies have become small businessmen or women seeking to build their own empires through multi-academy trusts. They have, in many cases, neutered their governing bodies and eliminated any vestiges of democratic accountability. "

And a number of these have been referenced on this site. Incidentally, since the 2013 Defamation Act, community schools, as public bodies have been barred from suing critics for defamation -even if they were minded to - whereas Academies and Free Schools may sue for defamation if they wish, and to my certain knowledge at least two have threatened to do so. Clearly this has a chilling effect in the local community and in the local press.

FJM's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 21:27

JC will be lucky to last as leader till 2020, let alone win the election. You are making the mistake of believing that the enthusiasm of a couple of hundred thousand largely white, middle-class and disproportionately young supporters who spend their time exchanging memes on Facebook and berating anyone who disagrees with them on Twitter with the tens of millions of electors who are unlikely to be moved to vote for someone who thinks the UK is like Islington North. Of course, I could be wrong, and perhaps people are yearning for rule by vegans, IRA sympathisers, lovers of Putin and Argentina, and racist and sexist hypocrites like Abbott, but I doubt it. Dream on or get real!
I understand what you mean by comprehensive education, but am not sure about democratic and progressive. Grammar schools are democratic as they are kept in place by the elected councils where they exist, and progressive is completely subjective and effectively meaningless.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 30/09/2015 - 22:24

Actually, FJM I had been wondering about the demography of Corbyn supporters myself. (THAT many vegans? Surely not)

And I came across this:-

"Jeremy Corbyn's supporters are more working class than other leadership candidates’, research finds

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters tend to be more working class and have lower incomes than the supporters of other candidates for the Labour leadership, according to new research."

The full report is in the Independent here:-


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 06:49

FJM - you forgot to add 'Marxist' to your list of the supposed make-up of Corbyn supporters.

But, as David's link to the YouGov opinion poll shows:

'In both cases Mr Corbyn's supporters were closer to the average demographic for voters in Great Britain than the other candidates' although they warned 'this did not necessarily translate into a similarity of political views.'

This poll (admittedly only one) rather blows a hole in your opinion that Corbyn's supporters are mainly 'middle-class'. But it's a necessary balance to some of the more lurid headlines re Corbyn (See Private Eye 4 September for guide 'How to Speak Corbyn: A Headline-Writer's Guide' for examples).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 06:32

For info: FullFact has checked Corbyn's leader speech for accuracy. Some statements were accurate and some weren't but, as in so many comments by politicians when they quote data, it often comes down to interpretation.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 08:25


I am surprised at you letting Corbyn off so lightly for statistical distortions of a kind that would make even the DfE blush. You wouldn't let Nick Gibb get away with this!

Corbyn's speech said: Britain is at the bottom of the international league on investment. Just below Madagascar and just above El Salvador.

As FullFact reported, this is not true. It might have been technically 'true-ish' in 2011, but even then the remark is misleading as developed countries do tend to look as if they are investing less when the measure is %age of GDP.

Had Corbyn used 2014 figures and contextualized properly, he'd have said the UK was between Italy and Germany and equal to the Netherlands. Which gives a rather different impression, doesn't it!

Meet the New Boss. Same as the old boss. Won't get fooled again.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 10:33

Barry - not sure they're the kind of 'statistical distortions of a kind that would make even the DfE blush'. The international league on investment data was out-of-date, yes, but as far as I'm aware the organisation behind the data hasn't issued a warning saying the data was wrong and should not be used for comparison. This is what happened when the last Government ignored an explicit warning from the OECD not to use the 2000 PISA results for the UK for comparison because they were flawed.

That's the only Corbyn statement which can be described as incorrect (because based on out-of-date stats). FullFact's conclusions about the others were as follows:

1 Claim some Tories want to opt out of leaving European Convention on Human Rights. True although Gov't policy 'for the time being' is to stay in.

2 Corbyn's Labour Force figures - correct according to ONS.

3 Claim that during the five years of the last Parliament, half a million fewer houses were built. 'Reasonable' to say gap is 100,000 a year over five years.

4 Claim that three-quarters of mental health problems start before age 18. Difficult to prove - little up-to-date data.

5 Claim that half a million more children in poverty. Partly correct depending on interpretation. Children in relative poverty - down. Children in absolute poverty - up.

6 Claim PM has broken promise on cutting child tax credits. Child tax credits frozen in budget, some cut. But Tories claim PM was referring to Child Benefit not tax credits.

So nothing yet on the scale of ignoring warnings not to use data, misrepresenting Key Stage 2 test results, using pseudo-surveys to prove teenagers were clueless about historical facts or Gove rewriting the history of favourite teachers. However, if you have evidence that Corbyn has been censured by the UK Statistics Watchdog in the same way Gove, Morgan and the DfE has, please provide a link.

That said, deception about academies started under Labour. Was Corbyn complicit in this or not?

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 10:56

Well at least Corbyn didn't say we were "plummeting" down the international investment league tables. Some of his supporter do tend to use iffy comparisons that are similar to the 2000 PISA though - for instance not heeding the warnings of statisticians about problems using GINI across countries of different size and different time scales and so on when comparing inequalities.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 11:31

Quite so - like ignoring those footnote warnings about using the data 'with caution' eg the one that appeared on the OECD Adult Skills Survey because most countries didn't meet the sample requirements and was based on 'assumptions'. This should have resulted in the Survey being abandoned if 'assumptions' had to be made but I guess OECD would have had to refund any fee which countries had paid to take part. Nevertheless, the Survey results were published and seized upon with glee by the media and politicians (including Nick Gibb) to show how bad education in England has become. Not much caution there!

Guest's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 15:09

Taken as a whole my impression is that JC red presents and presents fools gold. His speeches are littered with classic career politician populist smoke and mirrors plying the audience with what they want to hear. Yes, his stated position on education plays well to those set against Academies and Free Schools and wanting the return to the status quo represented by LAs. However, he has no substantive policies and little or effort has been made to cost the dream/vision/value litany he repeats at every opportunity.

The adage 'be careful of what you wish for' and I strongly suspect that under JC the Labour party is going to learn the full gravity of what this means. In that context I fear for education even more now than I did before his election. As for those MPs who nominated and seconded his entry into the leadership race simply to add breadth to the declared candidates, polite words fail me. The fiasco / debacle of the leadership election process revealed everything that about the Labour Party's inability to organise themselves let alone organise and operate an effective and much needed opposition.

I am not a Conservative support or voter and find myself absolutely, steadfastly and resolutely despairing of British politics.

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 15:10

Alasdair: how does your idea fit in with the already existing Reclaiming Education: a group which comprises Case, Comprehensive Future, SEA, Allfie, Forum, New Visions, ISCG and others. Would it not be sensible to join forces?

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 01/10/2015 - 15:11

PS would this not be in the spirit proposed by Corby: working together?

FJM's picture
Sat, 03/10/2015 - 07:43

I doubt if any of them know much about marxism or have read any Marx. (I have)

Alasdair Smith's picture
Sat, 03/10/2015 - 12:31

Hi Jane, I support the aims of Reclaiming Education but the AAA was not involved in the construction of this alliance. In my view, we need much more than a grouping of existing campaigns. The point of this article and the argument we have made in the last 2 years about a National Campaign for Education, is that we need a new movement that relates to the new generation of parents and teachers who are concerned about austerity and privatisation as well as other education issues. Neither the AAA nor Reclaiming Education do that in their current form. Hopefully the Corbyn effect can help us. With new people emerging like Clive Lewis MP, I am very optimistic. I would interested to know what you and other LSN people think of Corbyn's idea of a National Education Service?

David Barry's picture
Wed, 07/10/2015 - 19:03

The most authoritative statement of this idea is probably in this post on LabourList


In fact is pretty broad brush so far as I can see,.

The main point of it is to:-

1. Promote life long learning

2. Drive up the skills base in the country.

Its put forward in the context of abolishing tuition fees for undergraduate learning in Universities.

Plenty of room, I would have thought, for people to makes suggestions regarding the details.

Alasdair Smith's picture
Sat, 03/10/2015 - 12:46

Thanks for the nit-pick! It was lost in the transcription. It was an edited version of my report to the recent AAA steering committee.

Your elaboration of 4 other points is very helpful too. One of the important things to understand, is that rational argument, based on evidence, does not bother the Tories or other neo-liberals. Naomi Klein made this point in 'Shock Doctrine'. Smashing up the system is a precursor to rebuilding it on market lines. They will continue until we stop them. That needs a mass movement.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 04/10/2015 - 08:31

Alasdair - we're seeing the same smashing up at work in the NHS, the police, border control, local authorities. Starve them of resources; criticise them (this sometimes, but not always, takes a legitimate concern and turns it into a generalised critique of the whole system) and then offer the 'market' as a solution. This is helped on its way by much of the media who support 'small government' (ie few, if any, controls on their activities - so much the better to maximise profits).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 03/10/2015 - 17:08

Guest - The last thing you can accuse Corbyn of is being a career politician. To quote Shakespeare, 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them'. Jeremy appears to be somewhere in the last two.

This thread has been sidetracked into a discussion about JC. FJM - I am greatly encouraged that you are predicting he will last until 2020. At his election many of the establishment commentators and critics in his own party were estimating his demise as Party Leader in weeks not years. They wish!

JC continues to confound his critics/enemies and and I for one am greatly cheered by that as new members continue to join in their thousands.


FJM's picture
Wed, 07/10/2015 - 18:22

I think we have different reasons for hoping that he will survive till 2020.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 03/10/2015 - 17:13

Just for clarity we should always be careful to distinguish between Groucho and Karl....

FJM's picture
Wed, 07/10/2015 - 18:21

Both were jokers.

Guest's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 08:45

Mr T - First, the author of the thread explicitly introduce JC and placed him at the heart of his pleadings.

Second, it is blindingly obvious that JC is a career politician. What other employment has he had prior to election as an MP and when?

Third, it is impossible to support JC's education stance i.e vote for his party to become the national government without also getting the rest of his political baggage.

Fourth, the situation was never ever close to having been thrust upon him. He sight it nd campaigned for it.
I repeat my understanding of JC and his preferred policies. No substance, populist rhetorically pleasing but undeliverable and unsustainable. These are not the qualities needed to form an effective or credible opposition to the Conservatives. Labour has been dangerously sidetracked into an unachievable illusion.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 10:08


"it is impossible to support JC’s education stance i.e vote for his party to become the national government without also getting the rest of his political baggage."

Not sure what point you are making as this applies in our system to voting for any party. You get the complete package. Thats the way it works.

Guest's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 11:43

Mr B - thank you reiterating my point. It struck me that others may be seeking/wishing to promote JC for his education policy alone, which as we both agree cannot be done.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 10:27

Guest - I take 'career politician' to mean someone who puts a high personal priority on advancing his political career. I can think of lots of examples but they do not include Jeremy Corbyn.

Your views are well understood and have been repeated and promoted in the the media by a large number of those who really are career politicians. Yet the public continue to join the Labour Party in huge numbers and 80,000 plus demonstrated for Corbyn's ideas in Manchester yesterday. Nothing like this has happened in my lifetime and I am 68.

You are entitled to your views.

Guest's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 12:14

Mr T - a politician who seeks to climb the greasy pole is one thing and one who becomes an MP at an early age and remains an MP with virtually no other employment experience has clearly made politics their career. JC is then a career politician. The fact is JC actively sought and gained the leadership. He is perhaps the supreme opportunist who superbly judged the climate in his party and used it to great effect.

Thus far he has backtracked on Trident and the scrapping of university fees. These latter issues alone attracted many to the party but will that change. On tuition fees alone JC is hurtling into the Clegg factor!

The Manchester demonstration was not inspired by or called for by JC but rather by the union movement. It is then a piece of smoke and mirrors to imply that JC was responsible for it.

agov's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 12:54

JC is then a career politician

So not a dilettante or careerist politician. How wonderful that's been cleared up. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.

superbly judged the climate in his party

Except he didn't. At most, he hoped to get an opportunity to state his case. There is no reason to suppose he wasn't as surprised as everyone else when it became clear he could actually win.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 05/10/2015 - 13:11

I don't think JC 'exploited' the climate in the Labour Party - he created it through an enormous, 'The Emporer's clothes really are non-existent' process throughout the leadership campaign. What happened was that JC said stuff that never got into the media and more and more people stopped to think and concluded, 'that old guy with the beard is talking sense'.

You are misunderstanding the JC leadership. There is no firm policy yet on lots of things - including Trident. Quite right - we are only three weeks into the regime of the new leader and new Shadow Cabinet. There is a genuine process of debate to be had, not just inside the Shadow Cabinet and with Labour MPs or even just within the Labour Party, but in the nation as a whole. I am excited by this and it seems that thousands of others are too.

The unions have never got 80,000 people onto the streets at such notice before. I am sure it was far more the JC effect - and it continues to gain in momentum.

agov's picture
Thu, 08/10/2015 - 09:54

Now that may well be true. Still, be careful of what you wish for and all that.

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