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6. Tom Wilson

Tom set out the weaknesses of current arrangements for post-18 education.  Too much attention is given to Oxbridge and its way of doing things, the value of vocational and foundation courses is scarcely considered in designing policy, access for mature and part-time students has been reduced, Colleges are underfunded and the availability of quality apprenticeships is limited.  UK spends less on tertiary education than almost any other OECD country and is the worst in Europe for vocational training and foundation courses.  The apprentice premium raises £2.5 million but over a third was unspent last year.  This is already a massive failure of public policy but, after Brexit, it will be disastrous.

A new system needs to be more flexible, reach more people and offer more choice.  Tom recommends a personal training grant of £5k to all adults, to be used on any training or educational programme.  Loans should be available for top-up if necessary.  Such a system would be no more expensive than current arrangements and would give potential students and trainees greater control and, for trainees, a better chance of leveraging money from the apprentice premium.  Power will rest with the people seeking education and training rather than with the institutions. An added advantage is that, once established, such a system would be difficult for governments to dismantle.

Policy recommendation

Increase spending on post-18 education and focus the extra spend on vocational training and foundation courses.  Open education and training programmes to adults of all ages by providing more flexible course options and putting money in the hands of persons seeking to develop their educational attainment and skills.

4. Jonathan Bartley

Jonathan Bartley was unconvinced by Labour’s plans for a National Education Service which did not present a new vision of education.   

We need to put the hopes, the dreams and opportunities of every young person at the very centre of our education system.

We must equip our children to navigate together the huge change, challenges and opportunities that the 21st Century brings.

We need a total paradigm shift – away from schools as factories, with ringing bells, queues and standardisation and instead foster co-operation and creativity with individuals mapping their own educational experience.

We need to give control back to local government and give parents, teachers, learners and the wider community a proper voice.

He argued that:-


5. Catherine Fisher

From top down control to parent power in Brighton

Catherine Fisher, a parent (not otherwise an educationalist) saw the cuts and got involved. Attempts to force all schools to become academies (the threat of handing her school to a private company) was an influence as was the Let Kids be Kids (2016) day of fun-learning.

Brighton and Hove schools were out of pocket and heads publicly angry. A survey showed substantial cuts - to staff, equipment, use of outside services and mental health provision.  It was important to explain cuts.  Cuts to building work meant sealing windows rather than repairing as well as cancelling asbestos removal. Future cuts included turning away unaffordable experienced staff.

Action to defend schools was supported by three local MPs (from each side of Labour and one Green).  After-school open assemblies/picnics were organised, governors teachers and support staff demonstrated by holding hands outside their school.  There was a massive social media network and banners outside every school.  

The general election was a potential campaign interrupter with pressure from the council for schools to stay neutral and legal advice unsupportive of protesting heads.  There was peer pressure for heads to participate and the view that they can’t all be sacked prevailed.  Catherine saw governing bodies as part of the school closed shop. Where governors ruled against banners roadside and park railings and nearby houses were used.

Parental Choice, Free Schools and Home Education are no substitute for heads and schools working with parents as allies.

2. Pam Jarvis

Brain Building for beginners

Early years is the least understood area of child development and the most misunderstood.  We are still beginners at understanding the physical development of the brain and the way it effects learning.

It takes 25 years to build an adult neuron ladder and the early years and adolescence are crucial to developing this Intensive neural connection programme. A brain at birth has few neurons and very few connections. Over the first few years these connections develop very fast, but are not yet properly honed and organised, which is why small children find it difficult to focus.  It has been established that the better their vocabulary the better they are able to focus.

The best way to educate young children between 4-7 is in a free play environment, interacting with adults and peers that enables them to build up new ideas and vocabulary and their neural pathways.

Formal teaching and learning is obstructive, it overwhelms and distresses young children and damages the development of these neural pathways.  The present early years’ policy is not suitable. We need to change the way we think about education from birth to 7 and I do hope that will be in our new NES.

1. Mike Watson

Mike Watson began by pointing out that the election result had prevented the introduction of a number of damaging Tory proposals including the re-introduction of selection. Labour’s proposals for a National Education Service now have the potential to transform the education debate.

Mike then discussed the ten points of the NES charter. He particularly emphasised that education must become a joined up system starting with early years and going through to adult education and training. There must be real access for everyone – through the abolition of fees but also by addressing practical barriers such as transport.  

Education brings benefits to the individual but it is also critical for society as a whole. We need to respect technical skills and knowledge more than we have in the past. Schools and colleges need to prioritise the wellbeing of both staff and students which has been harmed by the narrow focus on exams and accountability. Excess workload is a major factor in the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

The NES commits Labour to ensuring that schools and colleges are rooted in their community and are democratically accountable. Mike stressed in particular the need for all schools to have their own governing body.

Mike concluded by stressing the absolute priority to be given to the early years. The inequality that takes root in those years can last a lifetime and addressing that is essential if young people – and adults -are going to be able to make the most of the opportunities available to them throughout life.

3. Pam Tatlow

Attendance at University is often described as only for young people. One in three people attend HE after the age of 21. Few black students attend the Russell Group Universities.

The Universities do not support free education. Their letter to the Times did not support Labour’s proposal to reduce the fees from £9000 to £6000. If HE is funded directly by Government there will be less money. However there has to be a review of the funding system for HE. A National Education Service would provide an opportunity to do this. There has been no funding for the Arts, Economics or Design since 2015.

Fees cover costs as well as salaries and so need to be at a high level so that every student has high quality education wherever they study whether in FE or HE. This should include technical education. Dividing the system into 'sheep and goats' is not acceptable.

We need to look at lifelong learning - from cradle to grave - so that whatever anyone wants to do in life can be achieved. The maintenance grants and many courses in FE and HE have been cut, limiting student choices. The Government should stop listening only to the elite universities. Collaboration between colleges and universities needs to be encouraged and competition dismantled. Whatever decisions are taken it is important that parents and students are included.

7. Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney described the severe funding cuts, mental health problems, excessive teacher workload and the unsustainable rate of teacher turn-over which threatened the very notion of a public education service. The role of education funding in persuading around 750,000 people to vote differently in the General Election of 2017 suggested scope for influencing the council elections of 2018 as well. Kevin focused on three issues for the 2018 campaign.

(1) Finance. He predicted no significant help in the November budget so the loss of teaching assistants and teachers was inevitable. There are seventy marginal constituencies where local campaigning could play a significant rôle.

(2) Academy scandals. Parents were being mobilised not by opposition to academies per se but particularly where failing multi-academy trusts (MATs) ditched schools after stripping their assets. Wakefield City Academy Trust was a case in point, having pulled out of 21 schools while retaining the millions of pounds raised by the parents.

(3) Mental health problems linked to the targets-led curriculum was making parents increasingly anxious. Harder-to-teach children were being excluded so as to massage MATs’ test results.

Kevin urged not only opposition to the government’s destructive education policies, but also vigorous campaigning for a forward-looking National Education Service that reflected our values.

The National Education Service should prepare children and adults for change. It should put the well-being of our children first, give parents a meaningful voice and reflect the public service values that are campaigned for by Reclaiming Education.