The National Education Union (NEU) supports a bold vision for a National Education Service (NES). We want an NES that is built on inclusive, comprehensive principles and that eradicates the structural, cultural and individual barriers which perpetuate inequality.
But we recognise that achieving this won’t be easy. Labour will inherit an education system that has been chronically underfunded and deeply damaged by eight years of ideologically driven, free-market, policies.
The NEU is calling on Labour to create a genuinely needs-led funding system. Rural schools need sufficient funding to ensure their communities survive and thrive; and local authorities must be financed to provide high-quality local children’s services.
The education landscape has been fragmented, privatised and marketised to a point where competition, rather than collaboration, drives behaviour that undermines equity and inclusion.
This approach should be halted and reversed. This means no new academies and free schools; giving independent legal status to schools in MATs so they can rejoin the local authority; bringing all schools back into local democratic accountability arrangements; and abolishing unaccountable Regional Schools Commissioners.
Local authorities have been stripped of many of their powers, including to open new schools. There is no coherent planning for school places and school admissions have become a free-for-all. Our most vulnerable children and young people – those with SEND and those from poor families – are the biggest losers. Local authorities must be empowered to oversee all local schools in respect of: school quality; place planning; admissions’ and governance.
Our current school curriculum is narrow and uninspiring. Labour must establish an independent curriculum body to oversee a process of reviewing and revising a new nationally-agreed curriculum that gives parity of esteem to technical, vocational and academic subjects and qualifications.
Selection can play no role in a comprehensive and equitable school system and must be phased out. Labour must also ensure that the NES, in line with international human right treaties, is based on a principle of inclusive education, with sufficient funding and staff training to make this a reality.
Teacher professionalism is overshadowed by a high-stakes testing culture. Innovation and creativity has been stifled by accountability measures, such as Ofsted and school league tables, which act as a dead weight on schools and do not improve the quality of education. There are high levels of stress, mental health problems, demotivation and work overload for both learners and teachers.
The NEU advocates an assessment system that supports children’s learning. We see no educational purpose in statutory assessments of whole cohorts before school leaving age and instead favour national sampling across ages and subjects to review national trends and support school self-evaluation. Labour should abolish Baseline assessment of four and five-year-olds, the phonics check and SATs.
Teachers are key to high-quality education. Labour must invest in world-class teacher education and continuing professional development; streamline routes into teaching; build a sustainable teacher supply model for all subjects and all areas; establish a national teacher supply service; and invest in developing the school and college leaders of the future.
To empower the profession, leaders and teachers must have responsibility for school quality. Ofsted should be abolished and replaced by school self-evaluation and peer review, quality assured by professional HMI-style inspectors.
We have the worst teacher recruitment and retention crisis in decades. We need a national framework of pay and conditions for all teachers and support staff; and must bring all teachers into the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
Despite the damage done to education by eight years of destructive policies, a NES has the capacity to transform educational opportunities for children, young people and adult learners in England in the same way that the National Health Service has transformed the health and life chances of our nation.
Labour now needs to take the radical steps necessary to turn its vision into reality.
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