Labour leadership candidates answer readers’ questions on education

6th July, 2015 3:56 pm

Labourlist reader questions education

LabourList readers can submit weekly questions on a different topic to the Labour leadership candidates. Here are the answers we got back from the first round of questions, on education. Note: Yvette Cooper’s will be added when we receive them.

1) How would you improve the quality and availability of childcare?

Corbyn: It is important for all children to socialise together from an early age, and it’s a community good.

We need to expand wraparound childcare at schools and free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds towards a system of universal free childcare.

Studies commissioned under the last Labour government showed that in the long term a scheme of universal free childcare could more than pay for itself through extra tax revenues and productivity gains.

Kendall: Good quality, affordable and reliable childcare is vital to help parents balance their work and family lives.  And world class early years services are essential to giving kids the best start in life.

The last Labour Government made huge strides in improving childcare and early years services, including through Sure Start, but there’s still far more to do. Too often the availability of childcare doesn’t fit around parents’ working hours or the school day and under the Tories childcare costs are going through the roof.

The very earliest years of life are particularly important. When kids in the most disadvantaged areas start school on average 15 months behind where they should be in terms of their development they play catch up for the rest of their lives.

We need to transform support during the earliest years of a child’s life to tackle inequality, promote social mobility, and help parents balance their work and family life. That’s why I’ve said the foundation years from 0-5 should be equal in status and priority to primary and secondary schools. I’ll be saying more about how we make this a reality during the leadership campaign.

Burnham: I was very supportive of the policy to keep primary schools open from 8am to 6pm to help working parents and also routing childcare money through Sure Start too. The entire economy benefits from parents being able to work too. In 21st century Britain, we need a vast expansion of flexible working and childcare has got to be part of that solution. We have a shortage of childcare places, which is going to make it very difficult for the Tories to meet their promise to extend free childcare to 30 hours.

Cooper: At the last election, no party set out a bold enough vision for families’ future. That has to change and it’s one of the reasons I’m standing to be Labour leader. The Tories aren’t taking seriously the pressures modern families face.  Over 600 of the Sure Start centres I worked to get opened as a minister have been closed. Labour’s plan needs to be much stronger. I want Labour to lead a revolution in childcare and family support. We should set out a vision for universal childcare. That means breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, holiday clubs and free nursery places and childcare available full-time not just for three- and four-year-olds but two-year-olds too.

And it means recognising that when children are small, parents need more choice about returning to work, working part-time or staying at home. The priority for younger families should be family support – for example, changing the way tax credits and child benefit are paid, with higher rates for small children so families can choose whether to use it for childcare or for one parent to stay at home. Each step needs to be fully funded – as we did with the bank levy before the election – but we should be clear about our aims. Childcare is now essential infrastructure for a modern economy.

2) What will be your policy on academies and free schools?

Corbyn: All schools should be accountable to their communities and to parents. The last thing we need is a massive reorganisation. Existing academies and free schools should be retained but they must have an elected board of governors, and must come under local authority supervision.

Kendall: I want what parents want: a great school for every child. By 2020 there will be hundreds of free schools, and many of them will be successful and popular with parents.  We can’t go into that election threatening to close them down.

But the Tories are wrong to force free schools and academies on local communities, and they have completely failed to ensure there is proper accountability in the system.

This must change. There must be fair funding per pupil, free schools must take their proper share of children with special educational needs, and they must have a comprehensive intake and curriculum. Importantly, decisions about where new schools are built should prioritise areas where the shortage of places is greatest.

We know that what really makes a difference in education is great heads and great teachers, schools working in partnership with one another, a curriculum that inspires kids and prepares them for the modern world, and ensuring parents are properly engaged. It is these issues – not the Tories ideological obsession with school structures – that will be my priority as Labour’s next leader and Prime Minister.

Burnham: I passionately believe in comprehensive education and what it represents. A school system that educates children of all backgrounds together. Free schools were Michael Gove’s pet project and I have consistently said, since my time as Shadow Education Secretary, that you cannot experiment with something as precious as a child’s education. They have been opened in communities where schools places are not needed, taking funds that could be spent more efficiently elsewhere.

I believe we need a schools system focussed on driving up standards in all schools, not just some. And a system that helps all children fulfil their potential, regardless of the status of school they happen to attend.

Cooper: The priority should be standards, not this government’s ideological obsession with structures. The free schools policy isn’t value for money because schools are being set up in areas with surplus school places, a third are not achieving adequate standards according to Ofsted and they do not address the fundamental problem of areas where there aren’t enough school places.

One of the big problems with the Tories’ academies programme is that they are centralising everything. If you are worried about your local school and you are not getting any response from the Headteacher, ringing Nicky Morgan’s office is just not going to work.

We need to return to local accountability. The Government’s policy makes no sense. They talk about devolving power to strong and strategic combined authorities in areas such as Greater Manchester, yet they refuse to devolve education.

For me the most important thing is raising standards, focusing on the quality of teaching and inspiring teachers without being so prescriptive that it inhibits good teachers from being able to use their experience and their ideas. Teachers are just not being listened to at the moment. There are too many changes taking place without any proper involvement by the professionals.

3) Will you allow local authorities to open new schools where they are needed instead of forcing free schools on parents?

Corbyn: Yes. Local authorities are best placed to do this. For new schools we must return to the comprehensive principle of a decent education for all – with proper investment in qualified teachers, and modern school buildings with playing fields

PFI has been a burden on schools that have had BSF money, and we need public works loans for future upgrades.

Kendall: Yes, absolutely. It is absurd that good local authorities are prevented from opening new schools while at the same time the Tories are letting other poorly performing public bodies take over schools.  It makes no sense.

Burnham: Yes. Over half of the first four waves of free schools opened in areas with either no need or moderate need for schools places. I want control over our children’s education taken away from Westminster and given back to local people, and I want to give local authorities more freedom to open new schools where they are needed.

4) Will you stop so-called public schools being classified as charities?

Corbyn: Yes. Educating the children of the wealthy is not a charitable purpose that many people would recognise.

Kendall: No. But I do want to make sure that they only get business rate relief if they are really working in partnership with local state schools and making a genuine contribution to the community.

Burnham: Yes, this is something we do need to look at. Public schools should only get charitable status if they meet a public benefit test – such as helping and integrating with state schools.

Cooper: I think this does need to be looked at. Before the election, Labour said schools would lose their charitable status if they didn’t do their bit to share knowledge and expertise with other schools in the area. This has to be a two-way process – state schools have just as much to teach public schools as the other way round. But it may be that a public school could do more to share facilities, help with UCAS applications or similar. If they refuse to do that, I think their charitable status should be reviewed.

5) What will you do to support children with special educational needs in the state education system?

Corbyn: There are particular problems with provision for children with mental health conditions such as autism, where support is patchy across the country.

We need local education authorities to work to co-ordinate best practice in partnership with the expertise of the voluntary sector.

Kendall: I passionately believe in inclusive and comprehensive education. That means ensuring there is a fair admissions system for schools, so they properly reflect their local community, and fair access to the curriculum with all schools playing their part in delivering a world class, rounded education.

Children with special educational needs, autism and physical and learning disabilities must get the support they need, starting in the earliest years of life, and right through their education. Teaching and learning, school leadership, teaching assistants and governors – the entire school workforce has to deliver for kids with SEN.

Burnham: There is major room for improvements here. Too many families still face a battle to get support. I want councils to have the power to combine the current separate budgets for children’s care into a single budget, with incentives for prevention. At the moment, people don’t get the basics they need, such as speech and language therapy and services for kids with autism are hugely underdeveloped. The Government’s move to a results-driven market may see SEN as the biggest loser. There’s a danger that the focus on academies and free schools may see schools move to expel kids with behavioural problems without getting to route cause.

Cooper: Too many parents have to fight to get a statement and then it can be a constant struggle to get access to the specialist support needed. We need to be looking at how best funding can be directed towards supporting children most in need. That could mean reforms to the pupil premium to take into account special educational needs. It also means faster and more efficient assessment, so children’s needs can be assessed as early as possible, rather than children falling behind and feeling alienated by the education system.

6) What is your opinion on the restructuring of GCSE’s and A-levels?

Corbyn: GCSEs and A-Levels are well-established and understood. I would be cautious about changing that unless there had been widespread consultation and benefits clearly known.

Kendall: There has been a hell of a lot of change in the education examination and qualification system in recent years.  It drives teachers and students mad.  What is clear, in the short-term, is that we need a period of stability so that schools can ensure great teaching and learning supports pupils as they undertake the new GCSE and A Level exams.

But I do think we should have embraced the Tomlinson review and reformed the 14-19 curriculum and qualifications. Politicians keep saying we need equality between academic and vocational education but it still hasn’t happened. Schools should be able to place a greater weight on developing young people as rounded citizens, so they can survive and thrive in the modern world, including at work.

Burnham: We need to make sure technical education is given the same priority as academic education – and that we aren’t forcing children down the wrong path. The best way to do that is to give children hope that there’s something waiting for them at the end of their school days – a guaranteed university place or high quality apprenticeship for all those who put in the work and get the grades.

Cooper: This seemed to me – and a lot of teachers – to be a classic case of restructuring for the sake of it. And the way they were implemented was rushed and incoherent. It wasn’t fair for students or teachers.

More widely, the way this Government has ignored the view of teachers and pressed ahead with reforms regardless is disgraceful. As leader I would work with teachers to drive up standards, support the very best teachers, but also promote innovation and new ways of learning. We should never belittle or dismiss teachers who do one of the most important jobs.

But the real challenges for me are about tackling inequality and a curriculum to educate young people for the future. As a country we aren’t meeting either of those challenges at the moment.

I would also want to broaden our vision of a good education to include wellbeing and the whole child, their happiness and confidence. If you think about your own kids, what do you most want for them? You most want them to be happy.

We now have such a narrow view of what education is, at a time when we have more teenagers suffering from mental health problems, and issues about the sexualisation of young women and relationships between teenagers. Something is going wrong in terms of the wellbeing of young people.

 

7) Are you prepared to re-introduce the education subsidy for 16 to 18 year olds scrapped by the coalition?

Corbyn: Yes, we need to encourage young people from poorer backgrounds to stay on into further education and beyond, and EMA was effective. It recognised and went some way to ameliorating the disadvantage of those students.

Kendall: If there is evidence that young people aged 16-18 phase face financial barriers that prevent them from learning, then we should take the appropriate action. But we should not assume that going back to what we had before 2010 is the right answer. We need to understand what the priorities are for funding young people in a post-2020 Britain. Further Education faces huge spending reductions. Whilst we should hold the government to account for their actions, we must always be clear about what our alternative is – which must be fully costed.

Burnham: The EMA was important in helping young people from less well-off backgrounds to travel to school or college and buy the books and other items they need, and David Cameron was wrong to scrap it in the way he did. I’d want to look at how we can reform it to support the costs that can be a barrier to young people staying in education.

Cooper: The Tories began their period in office by cutting the EMA, and have begun this Parliament by cutting another £450million from further education. We can’t make promises now to reverse cuts in five years’ time, but we can keep campaigning hard to support further and higher education which is so vital to creating the skills we need for the jobs of the future.

8) What will you do to get more working class kids into the best universities?

Corbyn: Studies show that working class children are the least likely to go to university, and are most put off by large debts.

The key to improving access to university is to tackle inequality and reduce the poverty and instability that holds back too many young people. EMA was crucial and must be restored otherwise working class young people do not even get to the base of post-16 education.

Kendall: It is a depressing fact that high achieving, low income children are still less likely to attend leading universities than low achieving children from affluent backgrounds. It will be a central part of my mission as Labour Leader to change that. Access to the best universities and into high-status professions should be awarded on merit, not family circumstance.

I want to see schools doing far more for gifted and talented children – stretching those who are excelling to keep on progressing whether in sport, the arts or academia.  Education is the best social mobility policy. We lost our way in the last few years by not talking about this enough.  I’m passionate about the transformative power of education. I know what it did for me. And breaking down the barriers to kids from deprived backgrounds getting to good universities will be at the heart of that.

Burnham: I come from a working class family and me and my brothers were the first to go to university. I got into Cambridge, but I never got over the feeling of being an interloper. Unfortunately, not much has changed in our top universities and I’ll make it a priority to open up these universities to people from a wide-range of backgrounds.

In many cases the problems start long before kids reach the point where they apply to university. Children from poorer backgrounds fall behind their peers at least ten years before that. Our early years education is failing bright children from under-privileged backgrounds, and Gove’s reforms have done nothing but drive talented teachers out of a profession in which they feel undermined and undervalued. I want every child who would benefit from it to go to university, but we need to move away from the idea that university is the only acceptable route, not least by raising the prestige of technical education.

Cooper: This is very important. It is crazy that students from fee paying schools are twice as likely to attend a Russell Group university and five times as likely to attend Oxbridge.

We need a step change in Careers advice and advice on applying to universities – and universities should not be working on their own and spending access money inefficiently but working together to ensure that this career advice is comprehensive.

Universities need to demonstrate that they are looking for the real potential in their applicants not just at who is most polished or rehearsed for interviews.

9) Will you commit to reducing student tuition fees?

Corbyn: No, I’ll commit to scrapping them. Education is a social good and should be paid for collectively not individually. Fees have also led to a corporate ethos in universities, threatening academic independence. So we need to restore their public service ethos.

Kendall: I have to be honest and say that my priority would be to put more money into early years rather than cutting tuition fees because if we don’t tackle inequality early enough then those kids will be playing catch up for the rest of their lives and have no chance of going to university at all.  I think we went into the last election pledging additional spending on education in the wrong places. The progressive thing – if we are to tackle inequality – is for us to prioritise funding in the early years of a child’s life.

Burnham: We need to look again at how we open up university to more people and whether a cut in tuition fees is the best way to do that. The average student will now graduate with £44,000 of debt and for some young people the thought of beginning adult life with that level of debt is enough to put them off applying in the first place. It’s not just bad for them, it is bad for the taxpayer too. Almost three quarters of students will never pay their loan back in full, meaning the cost of writing it off has to be met by the government. I am still attracted to the idea of a graduate tax whereby students pay for their education according to earnings, once they have started to earn enough money.

Cooper: The policy we had before the election was a step in the right direction – it is wrong that some students will see debt of in excess of £40,000 on graduation as a barrier to going into higher education.

The reality is that to compete globally on innovation we need to fund our universities properly. And graduates should contribute to that. But the current system is not fit for purpose – we expect to get barely half of the money paid out in fee loans and maintenance loans back for the taxpayer because the level of debt for graduates is so high. And lower earning graduates will be paying 9 per cent of their income well into their 50s. So something has to change. I’ve long believed we should look at a graduate tax instead.

10) How will you create good quality apprenticeships?

Corbyn: Apprenticeships can help develop skills and give young people great opportunities, but too many of the current apprenticeships are low quality, low skill and are being used as a loophole by unscrupulous employers to undercut the minimum wage.

So we need higher minimum standards, and for the full minimum wage to apply to all apprenticeships. There needs to be a more democratic, tripartite system of monitoring and approving apprentice schemes.

But the key to this is investment – the UK needs to urgent improve and increase its housing stock, invest in public transport and renewable energy. These investments can generate thousands of high quality apprenticeships

Kendall: If we want our young people to be able to compete with the very best in the world then we have to learn lessons from the very best in the world. If you look at Germany, for example, apprenticeships generally last longer and are higher quality. We have to make sure that Britain offers the same high quality training.

We have to make sure apprenticeships are there are there for young people not simply older workers; and that small businesses are able to employ apprenticeships as easily as large. We must make sure apprenticeships provide the right skills. This means working with businesses and trade unions who are well-placed to advocate for the needs of apprentices – who can be an important part of the growing trade union membership we want to see.

It’s vital that we don’t underestimate the important role that the public sector has in this – Government isn’t doing as well as it should be in providing enough apprenticeships and making sure enough of its own suppliers are doing the same.  Where major private companies want Government contracts we need a simple new rule: no partnerships without apprenticeships.

Burnham: One of the greatest failures of post-war public policy in this country has been its lack of focus on technical education. Young people who don’t want to go to university and instead want a high-quality technical education have been neglected by successive governments. For decades, we have had a Parliament dominated by people who went to university so, consequently, education policy has been skewed for that route. We have to take on the idea that A-grade students are destined to take degrees.

I want young people to be able to find out and apply for apprenticeships in exactly the same way as people apply for university. So my ambition is for national UCAS-style system for apprenticeships as part of a revolution in technical education that gives it all the support and prestige of the university route and access to financial support too. The best candidates would be matched to the best placements, and employers would be able to fill gaps in skills shortages. This would encourage more employers to recruit apprentices, because they could attract a wider range of candidates. And crucially, we would be investing properly in our skills base, which ultimately is the best way to build a modern economy. I have established an expert panel, led by Pat Glass MP, to advise me on how we can make parity between academic and technical education a reality.

Cooper: We need to work with business to create more apprenticeships. We had a policy before the election of giving more control over the funding to business in return for more, higher quality apprenticeships but I think we need to do more to develop that with business directly and to make that a real proposition. The public sector needs to pull its weight too – too many Government departments and agencies are very poor at employing apprentices and we need to do better – and more public contracts should specify the need to create apprenticeships. I am also very worried about the significant cut set out to the DFE budget in year for 2015/16 which will impact on apprenticeships which feels like the wrong priority at a time when we desperately need to be creating more good jobs.

11) How do you see further education fitting into your plan for education?

Corbyn: The cuts to further education and the adult skills budget are taking away opportunities from people, and robbing our economy of the skills it needs to succeed. We need a lifelong learning service to give people access to education throughout their lives, so that our people can up their skills and re-train to make a more productive economy. I would reverse the cuts to adult skills budget through an extra 1-2% on corporation tax (an hypothecated investment to generate a more productive economy).

We should value education for all, for life and for learning.

Kendall: Further education forms a crucial part of our education system but too often our colleges and sixth forms are overlooked, underfunded and undervalued. The way you get people into work is by giving them skills they need to get there, and it’s the colleges in this country that make it happen with little recognition at all.  As leader, I will strengthen the role of further education within our country, giving it the status it deserves.

Burnham: Further education has been totally overlooked by this Government. We need quality routes into work for those who don’t choose university – apprenticeships are a big part of this, but not everyone can train ‘on the job’. I want further education provision intelligently matched to local employers’ needs, so that people have a decent chance of using their new skills when they finish and so that local economies can thrive.  And I want schools and colleges to get better at supporting their students to go down diverse paths, and not just with university applications.

Cooper: Education has got to be centre stage for us at the next election. From Sure Start right through to lifelong learning: this isn’t just about children and young people. Education in the 21st century has to be more closely linked to the workplace, and has to be a lifelong process. FE colleges are a deeply undervalued resource in achieving that. Too often they have been a Cinderella sector with little support and little understanding from policy makers. In devolving more control over skills, apprenticeships and business support to City and county regions I want to ensure that we see a revival in our FE sector – playing a real role in ensuring that young people and people of all ages can access high quality flexible education. I thought our ideas about vocational education were important. It’s about time we got rid of the snobbery about the difference between academic and vocational education.

 

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