“a new vision based on the 21st-century rather than the 19th, a system which is not preoccupied with testing but focuses on learning, and teachers who are trained to know a lot about their subjects and to communicate that knowledge with enthusiasm.”
Developing a set of education policies that stem from our fundamental values of raising standards for all and narrowing the gap between kids of different backgrounds will be at the heart of this vision.
This is in stark contrast with Michael Gove’s approach. Out of touch and out of date, he is obsessed with structures and his pet projects like free schools. While structural reform is important, and can narrow the gap, like Labour’s academy programme did, what happens inside the classroom is even more critical.
Michael Gove got seriously short changed by the Treasury at the spending review. Capital spending on education – the money which pays for new buildings, to remove asbestos or to fix leaky roofs got a reduction of an astonishing 57%, a terrible deal compared to the average cut across government of just 27%. As the IFS said, these are the worst cuts to education since the 1950s.
And the Government’s proposals to change the funding formula for schools were recently exposed in an independent report by the IFS. It showed that 1 in 6 schools will get a cut of 10% to their budget – the equivalent of half a million pounds for every school affected. The worst cuts will come in the areas with the most need – places like Bradford, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Liverpool , while areas like Buckinghamshire will do best.
One startling statistic has come from the IFS: Labour increased education spending from 4½ % to 6½ % of GDP, but by 2015 the Coalition will have cut it back to 4½ % again, reversing so many of the gains we fought so hard for.
The Government’s plans are bad news for children with Sure Start centres and breakfast clubs across England shutting down. It is no wonder that even the government’s own advisers on children said the “most vulnerable in society will face, and are facing, disproportionate hardship”.
The plans are bad for young people at a time when youth unemployment is now over a million, when tuition fees have been trebled and Educational Maintenance Allowances scrapped, when there is no clear vision for vocational education and when new apprenticeships are mainly going to the over 25s.
Michael Gove likes to think he is the defender of promoting the basics in education. But recent figures showed that teacher training applications for next autumn have fallen by almost a third. And worryingly, it is modern foreign languages, chemistry and English which are among the worst hit.
So how will Labour respond to this attack on our education system?
Over the coming weeks and months, we will present our new approach as part of the party’s policy review. But the key themes are already clear in my mind.
Firstly, on funding, we have to have a clear approach to meeting the needs of all schools, not just some schools, with a particular focus on early years, because we know how important it is for every child to get the best start in life.
Secondly, we will focus on what goes on inside the classroom, not just what is written on the board outside the school. We need to raise the status and quality of the teaching profession, and I will look to some of the best practice examples from countries like Finland, Japan and Singapore.
Thirdly, we need to focus on getting more working class kids into top universities including Oxford and Cambridge. But at the same time, while Labour’s target of half of all school leavers going to university was important, we need to also focus on what happens to the other 50%.
And finally, we need to link our education plans to the jobs crisis. That means ensuring that more apprenticeships go to young people, and that they are seen by parents and teachers as a ‘gold standard’ in vocational provision.
I am clear about our direction of travel, but open to ideas about how we can best get there. I welcome the contribution of LabourList readers and others in this critical debate.
Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary