Thursday, 1 September 2016

Labour's leadership candidates answer NUT's questions on education policy

An emergency motion has been tabled for Green Party Conference this weekend on Jeremy Corbyn's proposal for a National Education Service:
The Green Party notes that Labour are proposing a National Education Service. Conference desires that the Education Policy Working Group (EdPWG) set up a monitoring group that will evaluate and criticise the detail of Labour’s plans in line with GPEW Education Policy. External Comms will defer to this group on an ongoing basis regarding official GPEW comments on Labour’s National Education Service proposal.
The NUT, which is not affiliated to any political party has put questions to the two Labour leadership candidates to help inform union members who have a vote in the leadership elections. Corbyn elaborates on his proposal which so far has been quite sketchy.

Questions for Jeremy Corbyn from the National Union of Teachers

I have called for the establishment of a National Education Service that will deliver the highest quality education to every person in the country, from young to old, free at the point of delivery. Education has never enjoyed the loyalty and commitment at the national level that has been enjoyed by the National Health Service. The National Education Service would ensure that, as the NUT says, education is and is seen to be a human and civil right and a public good. As such it is vital that education spending and investment do not suffer cuts but must be at a sufficient level to ensure that all children and young people (and indeed older people) have access to a good quality education, which allows them all to reach their potential. Real terms funding cuts for schooling are damaging and short-sighted; by ensuring education is held in the same regard as our NHS, we will make sure that future governments cannot so easily push through cuts in funding, and we are committed to reversing this government's austerity measures, recognising education spending as vital for future prosperity and individual's own well-being.

Would the Labour Party under your leadership argue for increases in overall school funding which would avoid real terms cuts in funding per pupil?

Yes. We will not repeat the error of this present government in imposing cuts on real terms schools funding since the 1990s, since it is very clear just how damaging this is. The National Education Service will ensure that properly-funded, high-quality education is delivered for all our

What will Labour's position be towards the national funding formula which will lead to increased funding for some areas, but cuts in funding for other areas?

In terms of funding, there is a discussion to be had about a national funding formula to ensure that the education service is well funded everywhere. However, any funding formula must be about levelling up and not cuts.

Following this year's SATs chaos, would you support an independent and research-informed review of curriculum and assessment in primary schools?

Yes. The Tories' continual meddling with the schools system, and desire to push through testing that is counterproductive to good education, has created the chaos we've seen this year that quite rightly so many parents have protested against. I am on record as saying that all children and young people need and deserve a curriculum in which art, music, drama, PE and citizenship feature. A narrowing of the curriculum has been brought about by a focus on literacy and numeracy because of the testing regime. Our children and young people are amongst the most tested in the world. Added to this, the fiasco of this year’s SATs has shown that we are in urgent need of a review. I would support such a review and  would want to ensure the voice of teachers was heard prominently in it.

If you are elected leader, will the Labour Party support the restoration of national pay and conditions for all teaches, including in academies and end performance related pay?

Labour would recreate a system of national pay and conditions with all teachers employed in schools with the same governance structures. This, in combination with trusting teachers to use their professional expertise and judgement in developing both curriculum and assessment should begin to address the issue of teacher shortage. And of course every child deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher, a teacher who has achieved that qualification through both classroom practice and academic study as in the PGCE. I want to see teachers given sufficient opportunities to train and develop during their own careers.

Will Labour campaign for the end of testing and league table systems that skew the content of education and are turning schools into 'Exam Factories'?

I believe that parents as well as teachers want the eduction service to move away from the exam factory culture which has developed in our schools. Blanket testing and league tables linked to performance related pay and a punitive system of performance management for teachers has led to a real problem in recruiting enough teachers to work in our schools. Endless testing becomes counterproductive. We get the best results for our children and young people, and for our society, when they are given space to develop and their talents are nurtured.

Will Labour support giving local authorities back the legal powers they need to open new schools and have democratic oversight of schools?

Democratic control through local authorities bringing together and supporting schools is the way to oversee education. Local authorities should clearly have the right and responsibility to commission and build schools where they are needed. The market based Academy and Free School programme has not ensured a school place for every child and is the wrong approach to a national service and entitlement. In reimagining and recreating the education function of Local Authorities, Labour would see supply teachers once again properly employed, with access to both the teachers' pension and the public money currently going to agencies reinvested in the education service.

On the issue of grammar schools, a Labour Government would not sanction the opening of any further Grammar schools, and we will do all we can in opposition to oppose their extension by the Conservatives.

Do you support recent calls from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, David Anderson QC and the NUT for an independent review of the Prevent Strategy?

I am aware of the good work the NUT has done on anti-racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and of the Union's critique of the Prevent Strategy and the call from David Anderson QC for a review. The Labour Party under my leadership would support a review and would want to hear from the NUT and other professionals about an approach to keeping children and young people safe but securing space and time in the curriculum to be able to discuss difficult and contentious issues. If classrooms are not safe spaces for such discussions children and young people may be at greater risk.

Should Labour support the right of public bodies to make ethical decisions in how they spend and invest public money, for example, by not investing in companies complicit in Israel's occupation of Palestine?

I am also aware of the international solidarity work of the NUT. In the case of Palestine, the union has a clear public position that supporting the Palestinian case and cause is not synonymous with anti-Semitism. I agree with and fully endorse that position. Local Authorities should have transparent, ethical investment policies, decided locally.

What will the Labour Party do to redress the imbalance of funding generally in Wales caused by the inadequacies of the Barnett Formula? Will the Labour Party seek to implement the recommendations of the Silk Commission regarding the devolution of schoolteachers' pay and conditions? If so, what protections will the Labour Party implement to ensure Welsh teachers do not become the poor relations when compared to teachers in England?

There is currently an imbalance between education funding in Wales and England. Under my leadership, national pay and conditions for teachers would be consistent across England and Wales. There is a need to reconsider how the education service is funded in Wales so that the current gap might be closed. There is, of course a discussion to be had with the Party in Wales as to how best this can be achieved. 

Owen Smith's response is in PDF rather than Word format and thus less easy to copy and paste into this blog. The PDF is below:

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