The schools white paper released this week failed to tackle the challenges the Tories have created for children and schools over last decade.
The Education Secretary’s grand plans for a 32.5-hour school week are already being delivered by the vast majority schools. The notion that schools should support children who fall behind in Maths and English is a revelation only to him. This white paper falls far short of the ambition children desperately need.
Covid threatens to cast a long shadow over our children’s learning and wellbeing, and even before the pandemic thousands of young people left school without the qualifications they need to succeed. The white paper exemplifies a government with all the wrong priorities and no plan to improve children’s experience in the classroom.
Ministers’ flagship National Tutoring Programme is failing pupils and taxpayers. It’s reached a fraction of those who need it, and ministers have cynically watered down targets designed to ensure it helps the most disadvantaged.
In contrast, Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan would help children bounce back from the pandemic, with small group tutoring for all who need it, breakfast clubs and activities for every child, and quality mental health support in every school. After years of this government’s Covid chaos, we will make sure children can learn, play and thrive together once again.
We also want to make sure children leave school ready for work and ready for life. I know that parents and teachers have felt this keenly in the wake of the pandemic. But even in the decade prior, employers echoed these concerns. So Labour will back pupils, parents, employers and educators to give every child access to quality careers advice in their school, two weeks of work experience, and reform the curriculum to give young people the skills they need for work and for life.
Finally, we’d invest in teachers, too. Last week, I visited the NEU’s adviceline in Doncaster, where I heard from teachers first-hand about the pressure cooker that ministers have created. 40% of teachers leave the profession in their first four years and applications to initial teacher training have plummeted by a quarter compared to this time last year. The high-quality education we want for all our children cannot be delivered without the high-quality teachers we need.
That’s why Labour would embark on most ambitious programme of school improvement for a generation, with practical steps to tackle the issues teachers face in the classroom. First, we will recruit over 6,500 new teachers to fill vacancies and skills gaps. We will reform Ofsted’s role to ensure it is proactively supporting school improvement, not just delivering a high-stakes, one-word verdict on years of hard work. We’ll also make real investment in teachers and school staff with a professional development fund to provide access to the skills teachers need in their career.
Labour will once again put education at the heart of our ambition for Britain. We want to harness this watershed moment to bring about real change in the classroom. The government has yet again proven it cannot deliver for our children, families and schools this week. Working together with pupils, parents, staff and leaders, Labour will tackle education inequality and support excellence in every school.