"Education, education, education – The words of the 1997 election and I hope, the words of the 2020 election."
Education, education, education. The words that came to define the 1997 General Election, education being one of the five pledges that New Labour ran on. However, education remained a fairly mute issue for Labour in the 2015 GE, despite the wide-ranging reforms bought in by Michael Gove, and the issue only seems to be getting quieter. How has it got the point that what was once a cornerstone of a Labour manifesto, a key area where they always led the Tories, is now an area where Labour remain mute.
Speaking from experience as a school teacher, I have been at the coal face of it and have seen first-hand the damage done to our education system by both the Coalition and Conservative government. Since 2010, we’ve had a new curriculum, EBAC, the hastily announced then retracted return to A-Levels, Free Schools, Academies and now, May’s flagship policy, the reintroduction of grammar schools. Recent polling by the Fair Education Alliance has shown that 82% of teachers do not support the return of grammar schools. This is surely a battleground where Labour can turn that anger and frustration at the government to their own advantage.
Whilst Angela Rayner has been deftly critiquing the Conservatives plans to bring back grammar schools, it simply isn’t enough to list what is wrong with their education policy; Labour need to talk about what they would offer. From Miliband to Corbyn, most of their education policy has been objections to Tories proposals and policies, with no inspiring, alternate vision of what education will look like in the 21st Century being offered.
From attending conferences held by the ATL, I have heard convincing arguments by Dr. Mary Bousted about scraping OFSTED completely, arguing that it riddled with problems, and unfit to reform itself. I can attest of the stress that comes with a lingering OFSTED, as well as the demoralising effect that an OFSTED grade can have on a school. By showing a commitment to either reforming this organisation, or restructuring it entirely, Labour would be seen in the eyes of teachers to be on their side. I believe that Labour need to ramp up their message against grammar schools; current polling shows 63% of people either have no view on bringing them back (17%), believe that the government shouldn’t build more (20%) or that existing grammar schools should stop academic selection and open their places to all (26%). This is an issue that goes outside the school gates and to voters from all demographics. As Labour need to turn around their dire poll ratings, this is one area where they can show the public at large that the future of education would be better in their hands then the Tories.
Grammar schools has long been something that has animated the Tory backbenches, and as May needs all the support she can muster for Brexit, she has thrown them some red meat. Many of the education announcements being put out by the government are not being swallowed up by the public – if the public were to hear Labour on the airwaves, attacking the government whilst presenting their alternate view of how it could be run, then it could be a way in to regain trust with the wider public. Let Labour take back the mantle of education from the likes of Gove, Greening and May.
Education, education, education – The words of the 1997 election and I hope, the words of the 2020 election.
Dominic Lee is a Young Fabians member. Follow him on Twitter at @DomLee1987