Sunday, 15 September 2013

Where next for Green Party policy on education?

My motion instructing the Green Party Policy Committee to initiate a policy development process in the light of Coalition policies, which would result in a  a redrafted Education Policy being presented to a future  Conference, failed to win a majority today. Part of the process I suggested was  to invite contributions from relevant teacher unions, educators and parent campaign groups to help shape the review.

One of the arguments against was that there had been a full and very thorough review in 2007 and that this should not be thrown away. Instead it was argued that a series of amendments should be tabled at a future Conference. It was also argued that the review would take time and may not be ready for the election period.

I believe something far more fundamental is required as you'll see from my speech notes, particularly as the ful schope of the Tory strategy was not evident at the time. . I wanted a far broader and participatory process but if we are to have a relevant policy in place for local elections in 2014 and the General Election in 2015 we must start thinking about amendments for Spring Conference now. The policy is 15 pages long so it is a substantial task. The current policy can be read HERE

These are the notes of my speech (not all of which may have been delivered as set out because of  the time constraints in a very rushed debate at the en of the morning session).
I want to start by acknowledging the work that went into the current policy and the many good and innovative ideas it contains. Don't blame me for the need for revision - blame Michael Gove!

The problem is, as Melissa Benn said at the panel on Friday, we are in a period of profound and unprecedented educational change in terms of both speed and ruthlessness. The post - war  settlement is being bulldozed into oblivion.

This is not just about individual policies but the neoliberal framework - subordination of education to economic aims and accompanying privatisation and profit making and the commodification of childhood.

Michael Gove is stealing our schools, our teachers' professionalism and our children's childhood.

Teachers 'deliver' lessons to deliver higher test results to deliver higher league table position and thus deliver us from Ofsted! (Prayer)

I am involved with many campaigns with parents, governors and teachers and am often  asked, where do you stand, what would you do? I have found the present policy wanting in giving a response.

The foundation of our policy needs to be strengthened - rejecting the Coalition's ideology and linking our approach to alternative views on the economy as well as the aims of education and the defence of childhood.

Although our policies are Green Government 'aspirational' they have to start with present realities and counter them. Don't protest -demand!

Areas for revision:

Local authorities fast disappearing regarding role in education   - academies & free schools and diminishing school improvement services.  We need to think about the 'middle tier' and role of Secretary of State. What democratic structures do we propose beyond the school level. What powers should the Secretary of State have?

We need to sharpen our critique of free schools and academies to stress issues around accountability, reinforcing social divisions and marketisation. Do we propose reintegration into a locally accountable community school system as we do with private schools? Should all schools have the same 'freedoms' as academies and free schools.

Sure Start - reducing and nature of early years education changing. We need more than 'continuing successful schemes such as Sure Start' what is our vision for the early years?

Ofsted - we say 'inspections will be revised' but we need to take account of its increasingly politicised role, the fact that it is privatised (Serco, Tribal) and overlaps with academy chains. What sort of school improvement service do we envisage - role and powers? How does this relate to institutions such as the HMI?

In our policy we say that the Inspectorate and LAs will be involved in the monitoring of governing body accountability structures - revision needed in the light of academies and free schools and decline in role of LA.

Pupil population expansion - because the Government has said any new school should be an academy or free school, LAs are being forced to expand primary schools with some in urban areas having more than 1,000 4-11 year olds and losing play space and additional rooms such as libraries and halls in the process. Again the role of LA in planning and provision has been undermined so we need to reaffirm their right to build new community schools to cope with the rising population.

Teacher education - university level teacher education is rapidly disappearing and being replaced by various 'on the job' training schemes with a neglect (and disparagement) of research, cognitive psychology, philosophy of education etc.   

I hope I have demonstrated sufficient grounds for revision, but more than this I am convinced that with the right policy, actively campaigned for in communities, teacher organisations, parent groups that we have a chance of building massive support and contributing to success in the forthcoming elections as well as having people flocking to support our campaigns. (I mentioned the successful NUT 'It's Time to Stand Up for Education' rallies aimed at parents, governors, teachers and pupils that were held in Brighton, Nottingham and London yesterday)
Declaration of Interests: I am a retired member of the NUT and a retired primary headteacher. I am currently chair of governors of two Brent primary schools and help convene the Brent Governors' Forum.  I am a trustee of the Brent Play Association and run Brent School Without Walls, a voluntary organisation that provides free nature and outdoor activities in Fryent Country Park for primary classes and out of school clubs. 

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