If you wanted any more evidence that the Tories wanted to turn the clock back to about 1930, look no further than this week’s announcement of the Ebacc (the Gove level).
Just as my dad (who’s in his 80s) had to complete a school certificate – a bundle of different subjects – 21st century school leavers will have to pass exams in a selection of disciplines from English to pure maths, physics and chemistry in order to go on to further study at A Level.
Obviously I think this is very bad. Why should someone who is very bad at science but a genius at writing or languages be deprived of a chance at higher education? Or why should a maths prodigy be put in the educational dustbin because they can’t spell very well?
It all seems nuts. Or very ideological – let’s narrow down even further the number of people we think deserve to get given a chance to get an education. It stinks.
I could bore on for ever about how terrible the Tory attitude is towards education and the young. But I think I’ve done that a million times already.
But what about Labour?
Obviously Tony’s 90s mantra was “Education, Education, Education” and there’s no doubt that Labour did get more kids going to university and spent more money on the education system. They also created a target culture (which all teachers hate) and continued the Tory obsession with League tables.
And then Tony’s chum Lord Adonis
came up with the bright idea for creating Academies – schools that would be taken out of local authority control and funded directly by central govenment (often with money from business as well). These were failing schools – often in the inner city – like Hackney Downs school which became the super successful Mossbourne Academy.
Obviously Gove loves academies – so much that he wants all schools to become them.
But what would Labour do?
This was at the heart of a debate I attended (as part of a Labour Party meeting) on Tuesday night. The speakers were none other than Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg and Fiona Millar, whose Local Schools Network is a fierce defender of comprehensive education.
I had mixed feelings towards Twigg. Back in 97 (I know I keep on harking back to that year) he was a hero when he knocked out the dreaded Michael Portillo in the constituency of Enfield and Southgate. How we all cheered! Now I rather like Michael Portillo – he makes thoughtful programmes for BBC4 while my feelings towardsTwigg are somewhat ambivalent.
First of all he is President of Progress, a Blairite wing of the Labour party, so far to the right that many have suggested banning it altogether.
That is not great news in itself, if like me you believe that Labour needs to create policies that help middle and lower income voters survive rather than pander to the needs of multi national corporations and the super rich. Then Twigg has recently been in the news for announcing that Labour would bring in military schools – apologies in advance to linking for this rather loathesome piece by the loathesome Dan Hodges:
So obviously I was curious to see Twigg. Like Progress’s Richard Angell, he seemed pleasant and reasonable and like Angell, he was very aware of potential hostility from the assembled audience of Holborn & St Pancras CLP. He was polite and thoughtful about selection, the charitable status of private schools, academies, Gove, the school leaving age – you name it.
But what did he actually say? It was quite hard to discern any policy in amongst his reasonable words – in fact his stated position was a policy of non policy. Which seems a crazy way of opposing a zealot like Gove, who churns out bizarre educational ideas on a daily basis.
Underneath the Gove rhetoric of ‘rigour’ and ‘standards’ is a clear programme of privatisation; he receives donations from edubusiness and this is driving his agenda. Labour should be unequivocally opposing this and pledge to put all academies back under local authority control. This makes them democatically accountable to their communities once more.
I’d also like to see Labour making it clear why kids need to go to school. Some will be academic, some will be creative, some will be technical, some will be bored stiff and hate every minute of it. But all these kids need basic skills and I want to see a brave programme tackling the shocking problems young people have with writing their native language. I want personal tutors for kids in state schools. I want to see young people given the tools to become powerful, active citizens of the future.