What do we mean by a National Education Service?

Dave Lister says content and funding must go hand in hand

Unfortunately, we have seen a plethora of education reforms by different governments since the 1980s which have mostly had a negative effect on schooling. These include the development of national testing, the introduction of league tables and the academisation process. There has been a loss of local democratic control. Many schools in MATs (multi-academy trusts) have far less freedom than they had previously, contrary to what was promised.

The result of many of Michael Gove’s reforms has been greatly increased stress for pupils and their teachers with much of the joy removed from learning, to be replaced by drilling/teaching to the test and an obsession with data. Children in England are among the most tested in the world. End result: teachers becoming ever more overworked. Clearly some schools and teachers have managed to rise above all this and still deliver interesting lessons, but their task has been made infinitely harder.

Education reform must be an important priority for an incoming Labour Government. Ensuring that education becomes a rewarding experience for all children is the way forward. The following points can form the basis for a programme of reform and advancement:

  • The academies and free schools programme should be terminated and the responsibility for allocating school places returned to Local Authorities (LAs). The return of academies to LA control should be focused in the early stages on failing academies and those that have been forcibly academised.
  • The authority to build new schools must be returned to LAs by removing the clauses in the Education Act 2011 which prevent them from doing so.
  • A review with wide consultation will need to be established on the curriculum and testing to remove the abusive regime introduced by Gove and worsened by Nick Gibb. This could start with restoring the Sure Start network, which was one of the greatest achievements of the last Labour Government, and making Early Years education less formal and more play-based. SATs testing needs to go. The primary and secondary curriculum needs to be more broad-based with an end to the detrimental EBac restriction on subject choice and the possible abandonment of GCSEs to be replaced by exams at age 18. So, a broader and less prescriptive national curriculum needs to be developed over time with professional input, ending the cut-back in the provision of curricular areas such as arts and technical subjects and PE.
  • Restore funding for schools and FE colleges.
  • Reform or abolition of Ofsted in favour of a more supportive system of national inspection. Teachers and schools need to be accountable but not placed under unhelpful pressure and unduly negative judgements.
  • Action needs to be taken to address the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. This means looking at areas like pay and workload and the excessive pressures of the accountability regime.
  • We will also need action to deal with the growing practice of “off-loading” or informal exclusion of children especially by academies. Ofsted has started to do this but Government also needs to be involved, given that it is estimated that 30,000 pupils have disappeared from school rolls over the past three years.
  • Restore funding for the vital services provided by LA school improvement services, whose advice and training is generally valued.
  • All schools to have governing bodies with provision for governors elected by parents, staff and the wider community. Community representation can be by LA governors, co-opted governors or foundation governors for religious schools. We need to end the ability of trusts to run schools without any democratic representation.

So, Labour’s plans for education need to cover the curriculum and testing, not just structures and pay. Our young people and teachers have suffered long enough under reactionary Tory education policies. We want to make learning enjoyable as well as fulfilling. Our children are our future.

Dave Lister

Dave Lister is an ex-teacher, trade union activist and governor support officer. He is a member of Brent CLP and Chartist EB.