Stand up for Education

The NUT is to be congratulated on its Manifesto Stand Up for Education, published in an attempt to make education an election issue in the forthcoming General Election and to persuade candidates who are elected to pursue better education policies in the new parliament. You can download a copy at  www.teachers.org.uk/files/manifesto-16pp-a5–9623-_0.pdf

The Manifesto is a comprehensive document that, among other progressive measures, includes calls for an end to child poverty by 2020, abolition of the Bedroom Tax, more funding for early years education and restoration of financial support for post-16 students. At its heart, however, is a call for a broad, balanced curriculum and the abolition of league tables and the government’s hated inspection service, to be replaced with self-evaluation by schools and local authority oversight.

The undermining of Local Education Authorities and the politicisation of Ofsted were two of the most disastrous policies initiated by the Blair government under the mantra Education, Education, Education.  As the Manifesto argues, our schools need more time for teaching, not more tests. Politicians need to listen to parents and teachers, not press ahead with more top down policies and strategies whose purpose appears to be more to do with securing favourable headlines in the Daily Mail.

The Manifesto points out that between May 2010 and December 2013 the Department for Education paid out £76.7 million to 14 private companies to provide support services to academies and free schools. The Government has even been floating the idea that such schools could go even further and be run for profit. The Manifesto calls for this to be completely ruled out and for a halt to the outsourcing of schools and education services.

There are some places where the NUT’s Manifesto doesn’t go. This is fair enough for a teachers’ trade union, but the Communist Party has no such inhibitions. Two essential reforms over and above an end to Tory and Labour meddling in education and the provision of adequate funding are:

a. an end to student loans and a return to proper funding and support for students; and

b. abolition of the public schools.

For those who say we can no longer afford student grants, we say that this has to be a social priority and the cost, anyway, will not be so great – many current loans simply won’t be recoverable. To those who say that private education cannot be abolished in a ‘free’ society, we say there is nothing ‘free’ about a system that entrenches a form of social apartheid and promotes a ruling class drawn from a segregated elite. Private schools, a National Centre for Social Research report concluded in 2011, “produced Conservative partisans” with a “sense of superiority” and less concern for social inequality than their state-educated counterparts. As for the practicability of abolishing private schools, capitalist Finland has done so and regularly tops the various international education league tables.

As a compromise and interim measure, perhaps we could keep student loans for public school educated students and give grants for subsistence and fees for state educated students. Just imagine the squeals from the Daily Mail if the next parliament were to implement this modest and reasonable proposal!

If you would like to debate these ideas, or if you think that education is simply too important to be left to Westminster politicians, come along to the Croydon Assembly on Saturday, 15 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. The Assembly runs from 10am to 4.30 pm and the opening speakers include Philipa Harvey, Senior Vice-President of the NUT. There will be an Education Workshop in the morning to discuss these ideas and many others.

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