I recently attended the AGM of Wiltshire branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at the Angel Hotel in Chippenham, which was an opportunity for a constructive dialogue about the Labour Party’s education policy.
The basic facts behind Labour’s commitment to education are impressive. Between 1997 and 2010 there were 36000 more teachers, 172000 more teaching assistants, and 1100 new schools built. Results improved, with 12% more pupils achieving five good GCSE grades, and 20% more 11 year old achieving expected standards in English and maths. The further education sector saw £4.2 billion investment, and Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) of up to £30 per week allowed tens of thousands of young people from poorer families to stay in education until 18.
Outside of schools, the last Labour government invested £50 million into the Union Learning Fund, supporting 490 projects in 3000 workplaces, helping 100000 workers improve their skills, and therefore benefiting both themselves and their employers. In addition, over 3000 new Childrens’ Centres were established, to support parents, on the understanding that early years’ intervention has a lasting benefit, particularly for children from disadvantaged families.
Under Labour, the education budget soared, rising 60% between 1998 and 2008. Total annual spending was £30 billion in 1997, and £64 billion in 2005, on top of which capital investment jumped from £680 million in 1997 to an estimated £5 billion in 2005.
These are powerful arguments in favour of a Labour vote in the coming general election.
In contrast, the Lib-Dem / Conservative coalition government has attacked the pensions and pay of teachers and school support staff. In 2010 they cut 700 planned “Schools for the Future” projects, and current school building programmes are at only 5% of the level under the last Labour government. They cut the EMA and have reduced standards in FE colleges, where lecturers no longer need teaching qualifications. In schools the government has allowed permanent contracts for unqualified teachers, this has led to a 16% rise in unqualified teachers in all schools and a 49% rise of unqualified teachers in Free Schools. The Free Schools themselves are often opened where there is no requirement for them, and a third have been judged inadequate, or in need of improvement.
During the course of the Labour government, funding per pupil rose 50%, the schools were better funded and staffing levels and pay improved. In 1997 a third of pupils left primary schools without basic English and maths skills, by 2005 that had fallen to a quarter, and the improvement in deprived areas was better than the national average. A range of measures in pre-school education, such as Sure Start centres, made a real difference. So the record in social exclusion was one of good progress.
There is no doubt that the commitments from Labour for the next parliament will improve the lives of millions. The next Labour government will extend free childcare for parents with 3 and 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours, and guarantee “wraparound” childcare for primary school children, allowing access to childcare from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, to help working parent. Labour will also reinvigorate Sure Start.
Labour will guarantee that all teachers in state schools are qualified, and ensure that schools are locally accountable. Labour will also increase the number and quality of apprenticeships.
It must be a priority for the party to place itself at the centre of a coalition of consensus about education policy, with meaningful engagement with the teaching and education unions. This requires addressing staffing problems, such as excessive workload. We need a renewed commitment towards the comprehensive principle and the objective towards greater equality of educational outcomes.
Published and promoted by Chippenham Labour Party on behalf of Andy Newman, both of 5 Elm Hayes, Corsham, SN13 9JW