Why is Labour so timid on education? It makes the Lib Dems look radical

I’ve been a teacher for the past five years at an inner London academy, and I’ve seen the injustices that education professionals, students and their parents face first-hand. State schools are chronically underfunded, while elite private school fees cost up to £30,000 a year. Ofsted and school league tables are used to enforce a narrow vision of education, and an Institute of Education report this week has found that teachers in England have the lowest job satisfaction of all English-speaking countries. A teacher writes in The Guardian.

As an active Labour member I want to see radical ideas coming from shadow secretary of state Angela Rayner aimed at tackling these challenges. Labour’s flagship education policy, the National Education Service (NES), contains the seeds of this radical potential. But the idea remains an empty shell: there hasn’t been a single education policy announcement from Rayner since the NES idea was launched 18 months ago.

Layla Moran, education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats and a former teacher, on the other hand, made a powerful speech to the Liberal Democrat conference this week.She promised to abolish Ofsted, league tables and SATs, to remove private school charity tax status, and subtly hinted at abolishing the 11-plus test for grammar schools, because they perpetuate “state-sponsored segregation”.

Rayner claims that academies as such are not a problem. But academisation has led to a situation in which we now have a competitive market in education that pits desperate schools against each other to retain their “market position”. This has led to terrible examples of gaming the system and outright corruption, at the expense of the most vulnerable children. The recent education select committee report showed that disproportionately high numbers of special educational needs students are being “off-rolled” to improve league tables positions. The academy revolution promised that the market would improve schools for all our children, and yet the gap in attainment between working class children and the rest stubbornly persists.

When asked about private schools Rayner rules out abolishing them, saying that if we only make “the state sector good enough” then private schools will wither on the vine. She forgets the main reason many people choose private education is snobbery – they don’t want their children being educated with the “great unwashed”. Labour’s plans to impose VAT on private school fees was a step in the right direction.

The Lib Dem policies don’t go far enough for me. They would only roll back the worst of the education reforms adopted under Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. But Labour should be offering a great deal more than that. Labour must have an exciting vision for the future, a vision for the NES inspired perhaps by Finland, where schools promote collaborative, creative and emancipatory learning, rather than endless competition for exam results.

Read more Why is Labour so timid on education? It makes the Lib Dems look radical

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Grammar Schools, Primary, Secondary and Teaching.


  1. janee

    “Rayner claims that academies as such are not a problem.” – yes they are. They fragment education, leech profits out of the system and, worst of all, pit school against school when the system works best if schools cooperate with each other. The whole structure has had to be increased with regional schools commissioners in order to attempt to keep an eye on the ever expanding number of academies and ‘free’ schools. Parents are eased out and academies are being passed from one academy trust to another, leaving debts to be picked up by the DfE. The system is out of control.

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