Thursday, 3 July 2014

Labour education plans: must try harder

Taken from current edition of Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
Teachers have given a lukewarm response to plans by Labour to reform the school system if Ed Miliband’s party wins next year’s general election.
Putting Students and Parents First is a plan by Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, and the former education secretary David Blunkett, to introduce directors of school standards in each local authority area. These would have responsibility for upping standards, handling failing schools and deciding on new school proposals.
Academies and free schools, which currently operate outside council education authorities and report directly to the education secretary, would be monitored by these directors but would not return to local authority control. Ofsted would be given new powers to inspect academy chains. According to Blunkett it is “unsustainable and undemocratic” to have thousands of schools “free- floating from the communities they serve”.
Labour’s reforms would also include giving all schools freedom over the curriculum, the school day and the buying in of appropriate services. Hunt and Blunkett make a clear recommendation that schools should be employing qualified teachers, a policy abandoned under Michael Gove, the current education secretary.
Tony Gavin, headteacher at Laurence Jackson Secondary School, Guisborough, is pleased Labour intends making changes. “Five years ago, school standards, pupil behaviour and educational achievements were all improving,” he said.
“Since then we have experienced chaos with planned new buildings abandoned
and money diverted into free schools and academies. We also get a letter every few weeks interfering in the curriculum, and there is an over-emphasis on exams and academic qualifications at the expense of vocational achievements.”
Nevertheless, the experienced head is unconvinced that “the era of privatisation in schools will end, and some of the wording in the plan is vague. Why not say no more free schools and absolutely guarantee there will only be qualified teachers in schools?”
Jim Fox, who retired as a teacher in 2011 after over 23 years in the profession, said: “I would have liked to see Labour put schools back under the control of local authorities, which, despite their mistakes, ensured we had a system that was accountable to local people through the ballot box at local government elections.
“Labour also has no intention of removing tax breaks for private schools that enjoy charitable status. This means a two-tier education system will persist.
“But the plans lack vision or an understanding that the economy is so technologically based that we can’t predict the future world of work. We need an education system where knowledge itself is important.”
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is also disappointed with Hunt and Blunkett’s plans. Christine Blower, the NUT general secretary, believes the appointment of directors of school standards risks creating “confusion in an already fragmented education system”.
She added: “We wanted to see proposals to revitalise and re- engage local government. Talk of ‘hard headed oversight’ may result in schools and teachers not being trusted to do the best by their students.
“Just 3 per cent of parents in our recent YouGov poll agreed with the current government’s education policy. This report is not a decisive enough break with coalition policy.”

Hunt’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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