Can Labour fix schools’ absence crisis – and should it pledge free school meals for all?

Morgan Jones
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Good morning. Later today Bridget Phillipson will deliver a speech on Labour’s plans to tackle persistent absence from schools at the Centre for Social Justice think tank in central London. Labour analysis shows that around 1.6 million secondary school pupils were “persistently absent” in the 2021/22 school year; absence figures have grown by 40% since 2010.

The Shadow Education Secretary’s speech was trailed on Sunday, so we know that she will talk about the need to fix the “broken relationship between schools and families”. She’ll also highlight how absence deepens regional and economic inequality.

Phillipson will outline Labour’s proposals to fix the attendance crisis, which include increased mental health support, free breakfast clubs at English primary schools, curriculum reform to deliver stronger reading, writing and maths foundations, and AI to improve and join up attendance recording systems.

In a release in advance of the speech the national education union welcomed Labour’s promise to prioritise education, but used the opportunity to highlight its view on the importance of universal free school meals, a policy it has long pressured Labour to adopt, not something the party has done at a national level. Sadiq Khan rolled out the policy in London this year, and has this morning announced that it will be extended for another year.

Speeches galore

Yesterday we covered speeches from Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Welsh Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Miles. You can read our report on Sarwar’s pitch to Scottish voters, “regardless of how they voted before”, and the see the full text of his speech here. You can find the full text of Miles’ speech laying out his 6 priorities here.

And finally…

This will be my last email for LabourList, and tomorrow is in fact my last day. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my morning emails – unfortunately I’m one of those people who lives their lives in the Labour Party, so I’ll see you all on the doorstep in what looks to be a very, very good year to be a party member.

In the meantime, please enjoy one last bit of LabourList email mass observation, coming this time from our reader Matthew Bold, who responded to my call out in December for stories from people who met their partner through the party, which feels a fitting topic given the circulation today of a touching clip of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock discussing the passing of his late wife, the former minister Glenys Kinnock. In this case, we have the story is of Matthew’s grandparents:

“They met at a Labour Party conference in the 50s, while she was married. He then pulled the post-war equivalent of a DM slide by writing her a letter saying how nice it was to meet her and saying how he’d love to keep in touch “as friends”. Turned out he was the boy-at-Labour-Party-Conference-she-tells-you-not-to-worry-about as she ended up getting her marriage annulled and married him instead. They were both later councillors at various points, so possibly the only time anyone’s eloped to achieve their dream of becoming a borough councillor?”

In other Labour news…

BIRMINGHAM COUNCIL: As part of the ongoing programme of austerity at the council following its effective declaration of bankruptcy last year, the city’s youth services are reportedly set to be “decimated” (Birmingham Live).

GOOD LANDLORD CHARTER: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is today launching a consultation on a proposed Greater Manchester good landlord charter (Greater Manchester Combined Authority).

BIBBY STOCKHOLM: Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome visited the site of the barge yesterday, but wasn’t allowed onboard to check conditions. She’s documented her trip and what she’s heard from residents on the barge on social media.

NON-BATTLEGROUND SEATS: If you’d like to fight a seat you probably won’t win at the next election, the deadline for applications is tomorrow at noon. If undecided, perhaps you should read this piece from our columnist Alice Perry about why it’s worth doing.

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