At our January meeting, Emma Ann Hardy, a member of Labour’s National Policy Forum [NPF] led a discussion on education. Emma has provided us with the notes of her opening remarks – which we are publishing below.
“First NPF updates:
• At their meeting in November, the National Executive Committee (NEC) agreed a process and approach for the review of how Labour develops and makes policy as a party and agreed a continuing programme of work for the NPF in the year ahead.
• Consulting to “deliver the more open, inclusive and democratic approach to policy-making in the Labour Party”
• It has an “executive” called the Joint Policy Committee and NPF delegates elect people onto this.
• The NEC has agreed to hold a consultation with the Party running up to Annual Conference, and publish discussion papers on seven key policy challenges. This consultation will be led by the NPF with each NPF member sitting on one of the new policy commissions:
• ECONOMY: Building a productive economy
• INTERNATIONAL: Britain’s security and defence priorities
• COMMUNITIES: Housing policy
• COMMUNITIES: Transport
• HEALTH AND CARE: Mental health
• HOME AFFAIRS: Crime and policing
• I have asked to sit on the Children and Education – Early Years committee.
I have concerns about education so I want to spend a little time discussing the main issues facing our teachers and children and what we as concerned Labour Party activists can do.
Education is currently in crisis. Funding cuts are damaging the education provision our children receive, driving up class sizes, reducing the number of TAs, increasing the number of unqualified teachers and reducing the curriculum options available. The new primary tests are increasing pressure on children and narrowing their curriculum diet. Excessive accountability measures are driving workload and crushing the morale of our teachers which is fuelling recruitment and retention problems.
This is set in the context of increasing fragmentation of our schools, a total lack of democratic oversight and here in Leeds there are over thirteen different education employers providing education for children, with mixed attitudes towards trade unions.
Sixth form colleges are facing immense funding cuts, with huge real-terms cuts estimated at 14 per cent. The long term future of many colleges is already at risk if the cuts continue. The Spending Review announcement confirmed there would be more real terms cuts for 16-19, of a further 6% funding from September 2016, pushing Sixth Form Colleges to the brink. A survey undertaken by the Sixth Form Colleges Association in the summer of 2015 showed that 72 per cent have dropped courses, 81 per cent have increased class sizes – and more than one in three think they will not be a going concern by 2020.
Lifelong learning was championed by Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election and I am sure that we all know people who have benefited from having the opportunity to return to college. My father went on to become a head teacher after leaving school with nothing and resitting his exams here in Leeds.
The new proposed funding formula will not protect schools in Leeds. Every local authority in England – with the possible exception of Barnsley – will see real terms cuts ranging from 2.3% to more than 20% in some London boroughs. Inflation will eat into the real value of school funding, putting more pressure on schools even though many are already struggling to cope. On top of that, schools face the extra burden of higher employer National Insurance and pension contributions – that alone will add some 5 per cent to their costs. Already teachers are reporting the visible impact of funding cuts. There are a reduced number of TAs with one teacher from Sheffield commenting “The lack of teaching assistant support makes differentiation and individualised learning impossible because of the numbers in class!” a Plymouth teacher said trips are being cut, ““We now no longer run enough school trips. Many parents cannot afford to pay … the school will not cover any shortfall so we have been told not to organise them unless we are sure they will be self-financing which obviously they can never be.” and one from Yorkshire “The impact on department budgets has been unbelievable. We are under continually increasing pressure to perform in a variety of ways. We want to be able to do our jobs well and do the right thing by the kids, but it seems that there are obstacles put in our way at every turn.” A teacher in Bradford sums it up, “I’m getting fed up with saying to kids, Sorry we can’t afford it.”
Options for our children are being reduced because of funding but also because of the new tests and the incredibly pressure on teachers to get results. If not enough children pass these new tests teachers will be labelled inadequate, face capability and it could trigger an Ofsted inspection. This pressure that schools face is manifesting itself with pressure on children. Guardian reported “Children aged 10 or 11 are said to be “in complete meltdown”, in tears, or feeling sick during tests, and problems can be made worse by their competitive parents, according to the Exam Factories? report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and conducted independently by Merryn Hutchings, professor at London Metropolitan University.”
Teachers in primary schools are unhappy because the ks1 tests are awful and teachers in secondaries are unhappy because the tests have preset limited grades and the floor standards have increased. When the new Grade 5 standard is introduced in place of the current “C” grade standard, Datalab calculated that the percentage of children who secure this “good pass” level in English and Maths will initially fall by around 23%, from 58% to 35%. This will result in more schools being deemed as failing. Teachers in Year 2 are panicking about the level in the new assessments and the result is that children in year 2 are missing out on “topic” lessons or the arts because they are attending intervention groups.
Reclaiming Schools reported, “It is true that the concept of assessment in reception is not new and foundation teachers have always done a “baseline assessment.” But never before has this assessment been used to predict Year 6 SATs results. In these first weeks as children struggle to communicate their basic needs and adapt to a new and strange environment, how can we possibly decide how well they will perform in their 2022 SATs?” When we are uses tests that ask questions about whether a child can use the toilet on their own as a predictor of success in mathematics at age 11 we should expose this for the nonsense it is, children starting off with identical baseline scores diverge across 60-80% of the KS2 attainment range.
Reclaiming schools argues, “It also raises serious ethical questions for schools. Baseline Assessment creates the illusion that you can accurately determine a child’s future potential even at the age of 4. These tests actively encourage teachers to view children as low, average and high ‘ability’, as if their performance has nothing to do with early experiences and opportunities, or indeed the debilitating effects of growing up in poverty. It will place a ceiling on many children’s future development, since these labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
It will not come as a surprise that in this climate recruitment and retention of teachers is in crisis. The media often focuses on shortages in mathematics and English, but both primary and secondary cite a growing tendency for schools to be unable to recruit or even to short-list for posts which would in recent years have been filled. Many schools, it appears, are now relying on more expensive agency supply teachers to cover vacant posts – but cannot afford to appoint those teachers on a permanent basis due to agency “finder’s fees”.
You may have seen the article in the Yorkshire Post about the Primary school pupils from Easington Church of England Academy in East Riding making daily return journeys to a sister school in a village six miles away after their own school could not recruit qualified staff to teach key stage 2 maths and literacy.
As concerned Labour Party activists, what is one of the most frustrating things about the cuts to funding, testing, limited curriculum, pressure on our children, excessive workload and accountability and patchy union involvement is that is very difficult to affect change. There is a massive democratic deficit. A report on regional schools commissioners published by a cross-party committee of MPs warns “school structures are now so complicated parents and teachers are struggling to understand the landscape.” The eight commissioners were introduced in September 2014 as a ‘middle-tier’ between academies Jenny Bexon-Smith, is the commissioner for Yorkshire and east Midlands. School commissioners are surprisingly important: they oversee the quality of academies, close schools, change school intakes, change school leadership. They are unelected and unaccountable and incredibly powerful as they have the secretary of state’s devolved powers.
But, there are things we can do! If chosen, I’m going to take the concerns about Baseline Assessment to the National Policy Forum but there are things CLPs can organise. You could contact your Sixth form and ask them if they want support for the funding cuts campaign, you could speak to education unions about supporting them, local councillors could use their power to question schools, parents could form groups supported by the CLP to look at boycotting tests as they have done in America and you could all join the SEA. By working together we can make sure by 2020 we have an Education Policy that we can be proud of. An education policy that puts our children first, that recognises children have different talents, that values all subjects and that truly believes that every child matters and every child has potential.
As Sir Ken Robinson perfectly puts it ““Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized…Our task is to educate our students whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.”


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