Listening and learning – lessons from Birmingham

22nd June, 2012 8:00 am

Last weekend I was in Birmingham for Labour’s National Policy Forum. The NPF has had its merits and successes, but we have to be honest about its faults. Too often it has been criticised by Party members who felt they had no influence on policy outcomes. Whilst there has been some merit in such concerns in the past, I left Birmingham with a feeling that the NPF has a renewed sense of purpose.

This is to the credit of the representatives and Party members across the country who responded to the Partnership into Power consultation documents published in May. I co-chair the Education and Skills Commission with Mary Turner of the GMB and was particularly impressed by the number of responses received to our consultation document from individuals, CLPs and affiliates. Those responses informed constructive discussions in our five workshops over the course of the weekend. It is also to the credit of Party staff who are working tirelessly to open up the process as widely as possible as we build towards our next manifesto.

There was a really positive atmosphere at the weekend, with NPF representatives seizing the opportunity to debate change and get involved. Jon Cruddas set out his bold vision for the Policy Review at the weekend. Angela Eagle, as the new Chair of the NPF has been one of its champions since it was founded. Along with Ed Miliband’s commitment to open up the process, the signs are encouraging that the NPF is being renewed.

In March of this year I launched a consultation ‘Devolving Power in Education: School Freedom and Accountability’. Michael Gove is overseeing an unprecedented programme of centralisation in the school system. He has taken Labour’s academy programme and turned it on its head. Labour’s was a programme that targeted deprivation, underperformance and required a partnership approach to school improvement. The Tory programme has removed these important features resulting in a proliferation of schools – academies and free schools – that are directly accountable only to the Secretary of State. I spoke about this consultation at the Labour Local Government Conference in March. I am grateful to all who have responded so far.

Labour believes that schools should be accountable to the communities that they serve. The education landscape in 2015 will be very different to that of 2010. I have committed to an open and honest consultation on how Labour shapes our response to the challenges of Tory centralisation that a Labour government would inherit. It became clear to me from discussions with NPF representatives that there is a need to extend the timeframe for our ‘Devolving Power in Education’ consultation. Ann Black raised the perfectly valid point that if we are to maximise CLPs engagement then they need as much time as possible to see and consider the consultation document. I will therefore be extending the time frame for submissions by two months to September 20th. The document can be found here.

I encourage members, affiliates and stakeholders to get involved both by sending in their ideas and encouraging others to do so. Extending the deadline will hopefully enable even more CLPs and affiliates to take up the opportunity to meet to discuss Labour’s response to one of the key challenges confronting us.

Michael Gove is overseeing an ideologically driven programme of centralisation that, contrary to his rhetoric, takes away local democratic participation in our schools. Labour will develop a different approach and I look forward to taking forward this debate as we progress in the Policy Review process.

Stephen Twigg MP is the Shadow Education Secretary

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