Labour’s consultation paper on ‘Education and children’: missed opportunities and misguided priorities

This post can also be downloaded as a BCASE Briefing here

Labour has circulated an 8 page ‘draft consultation paper’ called Education and children which seems likely to be the basis for its 2015 election manifesto for education. It contains some ideas which should be supported and some which are far too vague to know what they would mean. It also is notable for its silence about many of the key policies of Gove, which means that they are likely to continue under a Labour government.

Education for economic growth

The dominant theme of the paper is the need to overcome the skills deficit which holds back economic growth. The solution is vocational education for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ who do not go to university. Labour plans ‘a new gold standard Technical Baccalaureate for young people, acting as a stepping stone into an apprenticeship, further study or skilled work.’ (p5). There are five problems with this argument. First, while it is true that there are areas of skills shortage, it is also true that many young people are over-qualified for the jobs they are doing, or cannot find a job at all. (See The Great Reversal, Young people, Education and Equality in a Declining Economy, )

Second, what the Tech Bacc actually comprises isn’t explained, apart from saying it will include English and maths to 18. Is it a new qualification or simply the packaging and relabelling of existing courses? What course content is envisaged? What is ‘vocational education’? How general, how job-specific? What non-vocational education will accompany it? These are familiar questions because Labour is recycling a policy which has been tried before, most recently with New Labour’s Diplomas, and failed.

Third, at present there are far too few quality apprenticeships, as against low quality, short-term fake ones, compared to the number of applicants. Labour promises more. ‘We will …expect employers to create significantly more apprenticeships in exchange for giving them more control over skills funding and standards.’ (p8). But the reality is there are a million young people unemployed and there is no chance that employers will offer enough new apprenticeships for more than a small minority of these, unless Labour adopts far more radical economic policies, including a massive investment programme in socially useful job creation and a shorter working week to spread jobs around, neither of which it has any intention of doing.

Four, the implication of the paper is that the Tech Bacc and more apprenticeships will lead to more jobs. This is a fallacy, as Allen and Ainley demonstrate. The causes of high youth unemployment are not a skills deficit, they are structural – the decline in the need for youth labour as a result of fundamental changes in the UK economy – and they require radical economic policies to tackle them.

Five, what is being proposed, far from being a common over-arching qualification such as Tomlinson envisaged, is a new bi-partite system which will powerfully reinforce patterns of social class inequality. There will be a division at 16 – probably reaching back to age 14 – with the ‘academic’ 50% staying on in the sixth form or sixth form college to take A Levels and enter higher education (where they will continue to pay high fees: Labour is only promising ‘that repayments are related more closely to ability to pay.’ (p9)). Meanwhile, the ‘vocational’ 50% will transfer to FE colleges, which are to be transformed into ‘new specialist Institutes of Technical Education…licensed to deliver Labour’s Tech Bacc’ (p5), leading to a proper apprenticeship for the few and to a low-pay, low-skill, casualised job for the many.

‘Standards not structures’

The paper states that ‘The Government has narrowly focused on what schools are called, rather than how they teach. Putting that right is the central task for the next Labour Government.’ (p3). This is a re-run of the familiar ‘standards not structures’ argument of New Labour. It has the advantage for Labour of enabling it to ignore, in other words to accept, the continuation of Gove’s policies on academies and local authorities (see below). Labour ‘will prioritise what matters most in our schools; driving up standards with a relentless focus on the quality of teaching.’ (p3) with four strategies. First, no unqualified teachers. This should be supported. Second, more professional development. Good, provided it is funded to make time available. Third, ‘revalidation’, i.e. time-limited licences. Not necessary. Fourth, career progression in the classroom. Yes, but again, is there additional funding available?

But the key thing here is not what Labour is saying but what it isn’t saying. Not a word about what really holds back teachers – the performance targets that dominate teachers’ lives; Ofsted, which needs replacing by a new model of evaluation, accountability and support; SATs and other iniquitous forms of assessment such as in the early years. And not a word about the need for creative teaching for creative learning. In fact the only word about the curriculum, apart from the Tech Bacc, is a promise to free all schools from the national curriculum, which makes nonsense of the idea of a national curriculum.

Local democracy and local authorities

Another of the striking omissions in the paper concerns local authorities. In fact, astonishingly, the words don’t appear in the paper at all, or even the fashionable get-out term ‘the middle tier’. The silence may be because Blunkett is producing a review of the role of local authorities. But what it signals is that local elected government is not central to Labour’s education thinking. So the paper says ‘local areas’ will be able to decide admissions policies (pp6 and 10) but it doesn’t say what mechanism, what institutional arrangements, will enable that to happen. A repeated theme of the paper is that ‘Labour will empower local communities to have a greater say about education in their area’ (p6) – although only one issue which they will be able to have a say about is specified: ‘local communities will have a greater say in the new schools opening up in their area.’ (p7). But again, no mention of the role of a local authority in coordinating and representing the community’s views. Similarly, the paper emphasises the need for ‘the rigorous local accountability that is crucial to driving up standards.’ (p6), but makes no mention of the role of the local authority as the body to which schools are accountable and its responsibility for ensuring that support is provided for schools that need it.

 Academies and free schools

The silence about local authorities means there is no commitment to create a fully inclusive local school system by incorporating academies and free schools into it. There is a deafening silence about academies. They will continue as they are, locally unaccountable, including those run by democratically unaccountable privately-owned chains. Labour will not permit any new free schools, but there is no commitment to bring existing ones into a radically democratised local authority system. (See Democratising Local School Systems: Participation and Vision, Richard Hatcher)

Why we need to campaign for a new direction for education

There are a few positive proposals in Labour’s paper, e.g. on childcare, which should be supported. But overall it is far from the radical alternative we need to root out Goveism and set the education system on a different track. The paper says little or nothing about some of the key issues, which means that it leaves some of the pillars of Tory education policy intact. And the main proposals it does venture to make, around the ‘forgotten 50%’, are a misconceived re-run of previous failed policies which will deepen the existing social divisions in the education system and the youth labour market. Some on the left have pinned their hopes on influencing Labour to change course, but it is clear now that to achieve more than minor concessions will require mass pressure on Labour from a powerful campaign bringing together teachers and other school workers with parents and the wider public.

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School pupils’ details are being sold by the government

Originally posted on Vox Political:

Selling their future: Michael Gove's Department for Education has put pupils' confidential information up for sale.

Selling their future: Michael Gove’s Department for Education has put pupils’ confidential information up for sale.

Thanks are due to the Vox Political reader who flagged up the fact that, while plans to sell British citizens’ health records and tax details are currently delayed or in consideration, confidential information about our children is already being sold on to private companies.

Researchers and third-party organisations can apply for detailed information from the national pupil database (NPD), covering pupils at schools and colleges in England.

This includes test and exam results, details of prior attainment and progression at different key stages for pupils in the state sector, attainment data for students in non-maintained special schools, sixth-form and further education colleges, and information on pupils in independent schools, where available.

The database also includes information about pupils’ characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, first language, eligibility for free school meals, special educational needs (SEN)…

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Four recent education reports that might interest you…

Transforming Education for All: the Tower Hamlets Story

December 2013

Education not for Sale

a TUC research report on academies and free schools, Martin Johnson and Warwick Mansell. March 2014

Reforming assessment and accountability for primary schools

DfE, March 2014

Qualifications matter: improving the curriculum and assessment for all

The third report of the independent Skills Taskforce [14-19]. Labour’s Policy Review, April 2014


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Education 2015 – a progressive agenda for the General Election


The comments on Johne Bolt’s Education for Everyone report on the recent meeting with Kevin Brennan are interesting and well worth a read.

Originally posted on Education for Everyone:

On 8th April over a hundred people packed Committee Room 14 at the House of Commons to talk about the kind of education policies they want to see on offer at next year’s election. The meeting was hosted by Kevin Brennan MP (Shadow Schools Minister) who introduced the session.

The keynote speaker was Peter Mortimore, former Director of the Institute of Education and author of “Education under Siege”. He began by saying “we want a new government to challenge the cosy consensus that politicians have more or less got it right and that their ideas, right-wing, ideological, neo-liberal ideas are the only show in town”. He went on to present a challenging analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of English education and some radical proposals for change (see the reference to his presentation below). His challenge to the politicians was “that political parties seem to lack the courage to really…

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Election 2015 – Priorities for Education

Originally posted on Education for Everyone:

Tuesday 8th April 2014: 6:15pm- 8:15pm
Committee Room 14,House of Commons

A year from now, the General Election campaign will be in full swing. This will be a critical election for the future of education – and indeed for all our other public services. Education desperately needs a fresh start after the current divisive policies,so now is the time to set priorities for the campaign to influence a new government.

All the political parties are working on policies for the next five years, so our voice needs to be heard loud and clear. Building on the “Picking up the Pieces” initiative, our broad coalition of education campaigning groups is working to identify the key things that a new government should do and focus our campaign on those issues.

We are inviting everyone who believes we need a new direction for education to join the debate and help set those priorities…

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Children’s Zones for Birmingham – A BCASE briefing

This post can be downloaded as a briefing document here.

Children’s Zones: bringing together Birmingham’s school support policies and its devolution and neighbourhood development policies to raise attainment and reduce inequality in education in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods

Educational attainment in Birmingham varies a lot according to the local area, with low attainment closely related to areas of social disadvantage. All the research evidence shows that to seriously tackle inequality in education you need high quality teaching – best developed through collaboration between schools – coupled with the mobilisation of all the resources the community can offer. This is the Children’s Zone approach.

The Report to the Children and Education Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 19 February of the Examination and Assessment Results 2013 confirms how pupil attainment at every age is on average much lower in the poorer wards of the city. For example, in the Early Years Foundation Stage outcomes for the ‘good level of development measure’ differ significantly between wards, from 68% in Sutton New Hall to 35% in Shard End. At Key Stage 4 the Birmingham average for 5 A-C GCSEs with English and Maths is 62%, but there are 6 Wards below 50%: Kingstanding 48%, Ladywood 43%, Shard End 44%, Sheldon 47%, Soho 49% and South Yardley 48%.

The local authority’s strategy for raising attainment in schools in these wards is to broker the 13 teaching schools and their associated teaching school alliance schools to provide support. This is vital: the evidence shows that collaboration among schools is the most effective way to raise standards. But it is only half the story. It doesn’t engage with the social context of the school – the neighbourhood, the community, the local area.

Why a Children’s Zone? The importance of place

This is what Mel Ainscow, leader and researcher of the successful Manchester Challenge, says:

…closing the gap in outcomes between those from more and less advantaged backgrounds will only happen when what happens to children outside as well as inside the school changes. This means changing how families and communities work, and enriching what they offer to children. […] there is encouraging evidence from Greater Manchester of what can happen when what schools do is aligned in a coherent strategy with the efforts of other local players—employers, community groups, universities and public services. This does not necessarily mean schools doing more, but it does imply partnerships beyond the school, where partners multiply the impacts of each other’s efforts. (Ainscow 2012, pp307-8)

Towards a pilot Children’s Zone in Birmingham

A Children’s Zone brings together all the resources in a local area that can support the educational development of children and young people. They would include the following:

  • The schools – their staff (teaching and non-teaching), governors and parents
  • Other support agencies such as social services, youth services, the police…
  • Local community organisations and groups of every sort
  • Local community facilities – libraries, community centres, allotments, sports facilities, ‘places of interest’…
  • Local workplaces and companies
  • Ward Committee meetings, Neighbourhood Forums etc.
  • Other resources outside the Zone area: universities, arts and cultural organisations etc…

The building blocks are already there – they just need to be brought together

  • We have strong local networks of schools working together in areas of the city. In two wards – Northfield and Longbridge – the LA Schools and Settings Improvement team and HMI are working in partnership with head teachers and chairs of governors to improve outcomes for children on FSM. It just needs the community dimension building into it.
  • Transforming Place: A Neighbourhood Strategy for Birmingham (May 2013) aims to ‘Empower people to shape their neighbourhood’: ‘The idea is to create fertile ground for dialogue and joint action with local residents, businesses, investors and service providers on the needs, opportunities and priorities in each of the city’s neighbourhoods.’ (p3).
  • The Birmingham Education Partnership Board comprises headteachers elected by schools in each District, opening up the possibility of linking the BEP with the District Committees and Ward Committees.
  • Strengthening the Birmingham Family of Schools – the role of the City Council, a report by the Children and Education Scrutiny Committee (January 2013), recommends that ‘Elected Members commit to developing relationships with all schools in their ward and to becoming local champions for education’, including ‘Inviting head teachers to present to Ward Committees on school progress’.
  • Citizen Engagement, a new report by the Districts and Public Engagement Overview and Scrutiny Committee (published on 4 February), recommends that ‘Some strong pioneering effort should be promoted across the city for radical experimentation with new and different formats’ for Ward Committee meetings in order to open them up to full public participation (7.3.3.).

First steps towards a pilot Children’s Zone in Birmingham

The first step is for the local authority to identify a ward of high social disadvantage and relatively low school attainment which has two things: schools willing to commit themselves to making a Children’s Zone work and councillors willing to take the lead in building it in the community.

  • Carry out an audit of the schools serving the ward, identifying both areas for improvement and areas of particular strengths.
  • Carry out an audit of support agencies – local authority and other – active in the area: early years, social and adult care, education welfare, youth services, health, etc.
  • Carry out an initial audit of community resources in the area and nearby: institutions, organisations, bodies of expertise, community activities, sites of potential educational value, workplaces, and key individuals – and their existing links with schools, if any. (This doesn’t exclude drawing on resources outside the area, including other schools, FE colleges, universities, cultural resources such as the CBSO or the Nature Centre, and other workplaces.)
  • Bring together the school and community interests, together with councillors and relevant support agencies, to discuss and agree an Education Development Plan for the area.
  • Establish a Zone Partnership Governance Body comprising representatives of all the main participants in the Zone, with a strong community involvement.

Some useful sources about Children’s Zones

Ainscow M (2012) Moving knowledge around: Strategies for fostering equity within educational systems. .Journal of Educational Change 13:289–310.

Dyson A, Kerr K, Raffo C, Wigelsworth M and Wellings C (2012) Developing children’s zones for England. London: Save the Children.

Dyson A, Kerr K and Wellings C (2013) Developing children’s zones for England: What’s the evidence? London: Save the Children.

Save the Children (2012) Developing children’s zones for England Policy brief: October 2012. London: Save the Children.

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Troubled E-Act holds onto its Birmingham academies despite trend of decline.

E-Act has been in the news quite frequently over the past year. There was always controversy over the £300,000 remuneration package for director Bruce Liddington – the highest paid person in education, but then revelations last year of financial mismanagement led to the resignation of Sir Bruce. Most recently concerns over standards have sparked a series of inspections of E-Act academies  with the result that almost a third of their 34 academies are to be taken out of their control.

The Anti Academies Alliance writes;

The removal of 10 schools from the EACT academy chain is the most spectacular failure in British post war education history. No Local Authority ever failed so dismally. Even when Islington Council’s education service was deemed beyond repair in the mid 1990’s it only had 3 ‘failing’ secondary schools!

None of the 10 academies removed from E-Act control are Birmingham schools. E-Act runs nine schools in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. Six have been recently inspected. So how have E-Act’s Birmingham academies fared? With the exception of Heartlands Academy, not very well;

Heartlands Academy (opened 2009) inspected in February remains Outstanding.

Shenley Academy (opened 2009) inspected in February, has dropped a grade from Outstanding to Good. It could be considered surprising that Shenley was ever graded ‘Outstanding’ in the first place – Ofsted’s School data dashboard (2012) shows it to be in the bottom 20% of similar schools for 5A*-C inc. English and Maths and bottom 40% for progress in both English and Maths.

North Birmingham Academy (opened Jan 2010) inspected in February, has dropped a grade from Good to Requires Improvement.

West Walsall Academy (opened Sept 2012) inspected at the end of January, graded Inadequate and placed in Special Measures. Allumwell Business & Enterprise College was Satisfactory when E-Act took over. The Ofsted report states that the 2013 results;

represents a decline in standards from the predecessor school in 2012.

Nechells Primary (opened Sept 2012) was inspected at the end of January, graded inadequate and placed in Special Measures. The predecessor school was Satisfactory and had been judged in a Section 8 inspection to be improving when E-Act took over.

Willenhall Academy (opened January 2012) was inspected in September 2013, graded Inadequate and placed in Special Measures. The predecessor school, Willenhall Sports College, was Satisfactory when E-Act took over.

Reedswood Primary (opened Sept 2012) – not yet inspected.

Mansfield Green Primary – not yet inspected.

Merritts Brook Primary – not yet inspected.

It is worth noting that when Ofsted arrived to inspect the E-Act academies in Birmingham last month, it was not on the same terms as inspections at other schools. Elsewhere inspections are “almost no-notice”, with Ofsted calling headteachers the day before they arrive.  E-Act’s academies had the advantage of several weeks notice in which to prepare for their inspections – hardly a level playing field.

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Fight the privatisation of non-teaching staff at AET’s 4 Birmingham academies

The Academies Enterprise Trust – AET – is the largest privately-run chain of academies – 66 schools.

Four of them are in Birmingham: Four Dwellings secondary and three primaries – Greenwood, Montgomery and Percy Shurmer.

AET has just announced that it is going to privatise all its non-teaching staff in a massive 10-year contract worth up to £400 million.

According to the TES:


England’s biggest academy chain to bring in private sector to run schools

The country’s largest academy chain, Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), is considering outsourcing most non-teaching roles to private companies in a deal worth up to £400 million.

The 10 year contract would include school business managers, librarians and IT staff as well as a range of back office positions such as HR, finance, and secretaries.

Headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants would be the only roles not affected by the move.

Unison, a union that represents 240,000 school support staff, has issued an angry warning about the move, claiming it is an “unprecedented privatisation of school services”.

The contract was advertised on the European Union’s online tender service and the deal will be worth between £200 and £400 million.

TES 31 January 2014

And the Guardian asks:

If academies save money on wages, whose gain will it be?

An academy trust promises efficiency savings: how much of the money will line executives’ pockets?

Guardian 18 February 2014

Most of these school staff will be in the GMB or Unison. But it is vital that all the school unions stand together to oppose this job-cutting pay-cutting privatisation. A lethal precedent is being set: if they can do it to non-teaching staff they will do it to teaching staff next.

AET of course have a reputation as a a dodgy outfit even by academy chain standards – gaming the exam results while paying themselves huge salaries. Here is their record of failure:

Academy school chains falter in bid to pass government target

Detailed examination of the 2013 GCSE results released last week by the Department for Education show that academy chains – bodies that manage as many as 70 academy and free schools – had a higher than average reliance on equivalent qualifications to standard GCSEs, such as BTecs.

The figures show that the Academies Enterprise Trust had a 52% pass rate including equivalents, but just 36.5% with equivalents taken out.

Guardian 29 January 2014

Academy chain under fire following revelation of payments made to bosses

Academy Enterprise Trust paid almost £500,000 over three years to private businesses owned by its trustees and executives

Observer 20 July 2013

AET banned from expanding

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET have been ‘barred’ by the Government from taking over any more schools. It was revealed that the academy sponsor have been instructed by the Department for Education (DfE) to concentrate on raising results in their existing 66 schools.

The report states that 18 of its schools are failing with 30 in need of improvement and only two rated as outstanding.

Local Schools Network 21 April 2013

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Event: Thinking Allowed on Schooling with Mick Waters

7pm Tuesday 18th March

Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Pinsent Masons Room 1

Register for your free place here

Mick Waters  flyer

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GCSE Performance Tables – statistics or spin?

Originally posted on Education for Everyone:

GCSE performance table day is again an occasion for the DfE spin doctors to exercise their skills in the manipulation of data. The headline this year is that the number of schools below the floor target has fallen substantially. This is of course evidence that “the government’s education reforms are raising standards in secondary schools.”

The first question to be asked is “what reforms”? The new curriculum hasn’t started yet. Nor have the new GCSE’s. In fact all these pupils took the exams that Gove has condemned as representing nothing but dumbing down. Improving results under the Labour government are consistently put down to easier exams and grade inflation by Gove and his followers. But apparently this year, higher results represent real progress.

There are only two actual policies mentioned in the DfE press release – academisation and the English Baccalaureate.

Some impressive sounding statistics are presented about the EBacc…

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