No child left behind

27th February, 2013 4:04 pm

Every Child Matters was one of the great success stories of the last Labour government, pushing children up the political agenda and ensuring problems like child poverty got the attention and priority they deserved. It brought particular benefits to those children – like migrant children or those with disabilities – who traditionally had been left behind. But since the last election, Michael Gove has fractured this comprehensive vision for children; targeting resources at his academies and free schools programme to the detriment of child protection and other areas and prompting concerns from the education select committee and former children’s minister that these issues had been ‘downgraded’ at the Department for Education.

Gove’s vision is based on competition, where schools are set against each other in order to compete for pupils, which inevitably means some students lose out. This is compounded by a belief that what happens in the classroom can compensate for what happens outside of it. This may work for some children, but it cannot work for all. I know from my experience of working with some of the most disadvantaged children in the country that children cannot do well at school if they are too hungry to learn or unsafe at home. The secretary of state’s distinction between high academic standards and the wider support network for those children is a false one. Making sure children are adequately fed, clothed and housed is an essential precondition for high standards, not a distraction from them.

That is why we need an education system based on collaboration in order to help all children and improve their lives outside the classroom too. We need to recognise that education is at once academic, vocational and social; that it should equip children for life and not just the workforce and should be a place where children and young people find social enlightenment, not social advantage.

A post-Gove system must focus on rebuilding the principle of ‘education for all children’, not just the lucky few. To paraphrase Andy Burnham, our kids deserve a government that has a plan for all schools and all children, not some schools and some children. Since the publication of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level we have known that inequality is bad for all of us, not just for the most disadvantaged. The last government’s London Challenge programme illustrated the benefits for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, when schools work together for the good of all children. The challenge is to ensure that league tables support greater collaboration among schools to drive up standards for all.

The international evidence also shows that a critical factor is attracting and retaining great teachers, and ensuring they have the autonomy to make good decisions for the children in their classrooms. When I visited one of the highest performing countries, Finland, with the education select committee last year that was the lesson they urged us to come away with. Allowing teachers the space to innovate and use their professional skills and judgment should not mean we do not give chances to all children. The Greater Manchester Challenge, which followed the London Challenge, was a brilliant example of this: teachers from across Manchester shared expertise, staff and resources and adapted them to their own particular children and schools. It was innovation within a state framework – not despite the state framework, but because of it.

However, we also need to recognise that the system does not always work the first time round for some children because of other things happening in their lives. This is particularly true for children who are taken into care, who may not always follow a linear path to university and may need opportunities later in life. That is why a renewed focus on lifelong learning is essential to ensure that some children are not left behind. As Jon Cruddas points out, that was always part of the working class socialist tradition, and is surely even more important in today’s world where re-skilling is part of the fabric of modern working life.

It is clear that an incoming Labour government will inherit a situation that is dramatically different from the one that it left and its priorities must fit the reality and urgency of the challenges that creates. The school system has been fragmented, teachers are demoralised and the support for children has been stripped away. That presents a huge challenge, but a combination of collaboration, autonomy, investment in great teaching and support outside the classroom will be essential to make sure that no child is left behind.

Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan and Shadow Minister for Children. This chapter is taken from the Fabian Society’s latest report Remaking the State: How should Labour govern?

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    It is true that an incoming Labour government will have an unholy mess to unpick. It will take time and it will take resources but most of progress will rest on a coherent long term plan. The plan will need to rest on an ideology.
    And it is a central underpinning ideology which is missing.
    Teachers, parents and the electorate will not forget that the academies being rammed down their throats by Gove are based on an ideology of a “happy fusion of public and private” courtesy of Blair and Adonis. The stripping away of locally supported and governed community schools began with the Tory 1988 act BUT it was New Labour which picked up the torch of “public-private” and ran faster with it.
    The current reactive “pea shooter” sniping at cock-ups and incoherent piecemeal responses to individual “Gove notions” which is what Labour currently offers as a response and the lack of any clear big thinking in terms of a national and democratic education system for all will leave the electorate, parents and teachers with one of two conclusions:
    1. Labour has no strategic ideas on how we will build a democratic and locally accountable education system.
    or
    2. The lack of any new vision simple indicates a plan by Labour to simply “rehash the Blair Adonis” failed neo-liberal, third-way nonsense which has turned out to be noting more than psudo-tory clap trap.

    What’s the big idea?

Latest

  • News Is Ed Miliband going to rule out a return to frontline politics?

    Is Ed Miliband going to rule out a return to frontline politics?

    Ed Miliband could publicly rule out a return to frontline politics next week, according to this morning’s Times. The move would mean ruling himself out of a Shadow Cabinet position under Labour’s new leader. The paper reports that Miliband wants a break after spending five years as Leader of the Opposition. It is common for Labour leaders to step back from the frontbenches after leaving the role, with most never returning to a prominent role in the Commons. However, Miliband’s relative […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Clement Attlee chosen as Labour’s greatest ever leader

    Clement Attlee chosen as Labour’s greatest ever leader

    The Spirit of ’45 lives on – Clement Attlee was the Labour Party’s greatest ever leader, according to LabourList readers. In our survey this week, which also found that readers feel they have most to fear from an Osborne-led Tory Party, we asked those who took part to pick who they thought was Labour’s best leader from history. People could only pick one, and the list does not include acting leaders (sorry Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman). Unsurprisingly, Clement Attlee […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News George Osborne as Tory leader would pose the biggest threat to Labour, say LabourList readers

    George Osborne as Tory leader would pose the biggest threat to Labour, say LabourList readers

    Last week Jeremy Corbyn argued that the House of Lords should be replaced with a proportionately-represented elected second chamber. We asked LabourList readers what they thought about this. The vast majority of people are in favour of Corbyn’s proposals; 70% said yes while about 25% said weren’t in favour of this particular idea but wants the Lords reformed in some way. Only 4% said no and 1% opted for ‘don’t know’. Although all eyes are focussed on the Labour leadership […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Why I introduced the Assisted Dying Bill

    Why I introduced the Assisted Dying Bill

    My main reason for introducing the Assisted Dying Bill is simple. It’s a straightforward question of choice and dignity: with appropriate, strong safeguards, terminally ill adults of sound mind should be legally allowed to choose to have assistance to end their own lives. I value life, and I do understand that some people believe very deeply that ending one’s own life is always wrong. Nevertheless, the depth and sincerity of their belief should not mean that they deny choice to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Leadership candidates slam Cameron for inaction over refugee crisis

    Leadership candidates slam Cameron for inaction over refugee crisis

    The Labour leadership candidates have this morning weighed in on the refugee crisis, in which it’s estimated over 2,500 people have died since the start of this year. Yesterday, David Cameron made the following statement, in which he claimed the following: “We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world. I […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit