equality in education

"Labour education policies and the maintenance grant took me from the streets of Ormsgill to university" "

"Teacher pay and retention is a key element in the improvement of any society’s outcomes - we need our best and brightest to stay in the profession."

"Educational Research shows children learn best when teachers understand their learning needs, have deep subject knowledge and know how to apply it with skill"

Equality in Education

Yesterday, my campaign team was out in Risedale and one hot topic of discussion was education – a subject close to all our hearts. My team of Labour Party Members include a Central Barrow Primary Headteacher, an N.E.U Representative for the local area, a teaching assistant of twenty years standing and a secondary school English specialist who has taught across the sector in Barrow, Askam and Ulverston for over a decade. It is an honour to be endorsed by such a cross section of experience, from such a fantastic profession.

Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and social change and advancement, for the people, is the cornerstone of the Labour Movement.

Labour education policies and the maintenance grant took me from the streets of Ormsgill to university along with many of my friends – a teacher, a computer scientist, a paramedic, a lawyer, a sixth form tutor, a businessman, a nurse – all benefited not just from the estate’s sense of community and solidarity but practical Labour policies. We need that radical agenda for educational opportunity again – as your MP I would be proud to fight for a National Education Service.

  • Funding

Despite Tory lies, which were exposed by the House of Commons Library and the UK Statistics Authority – we in this party know there is a funding crisis in education. Any local educator in the Barrow area will tell you we are being asked to do more with less, putting huge pressure on vital staff, not for ‘little extras’ that Philip Hammond insultingly said in his budget speech of 2018 but for basic equipment and staff. Funding cuts – such as to the High Needs Budget are having a huge impact on the most vulnerable. Schools are also being asked to pay for basic services which once were free from the Local Authority – which has been decimated by Tory Cuts. A particular issue in Barrow is the pressure on funding of vital support staff, such as Learning Mentors, who support both families and children. A child can’t learn and grow to the very best of their ability if they don’t feel loved, safe and secure. I would fight to protect those jobs – they are the front-line in our communities. Funding of pupils with Special Needs is a national scandal, a predicted £536 million shortfall nationally, especially keenly felt in Furness. Educational Health Care Plan assessments are taking longer and longer as caseloads are so high so our pupils most in need don’t get help. This affects everywhere in the constituency, often in Furness rural schools who lack the funding for specialist support staff and need expert guidance and support.

Pupil Premium Funding is also being squeezed by the back door in the poorest areas such as Central Barrow. The Free Schools Meals forms which schools once helped disadvantaged parents without access to a computer fill in have been replaced by a ‘citizen’s portal’ online. Add to this that many parents have moved from unemployed to ‘working poor’ with zero – hours jobs it means they struggle to claim the benefits their children are entitled to on a week to week basis. This issue will cost schools in disadvantaged areas tens of thousands of pounds in the years ahead. And our families are no richer. 50% of children in Central Barrow live below the poverty line. Pupil Premium funding increases their opportunities, not just with extra help in learning but with providing emotional support and access to the wider world through residentials and school trips. The funding formula, which again disadvantages rural schools in the county, must be changed.

  • Teacher Working Conditions

Teacher pay and retention is a key element in the improvement of any society’s outcomes – we need our best and brightest to stay in the profession. The government must fully fund the pay increases it recommended, so the financial burden does not yet again fall on school budgets. I fully support the NEU campaign against school cuts. We also have to take action on teacher workload in Furness – teachers are regularly working a sixty -hour week and this is neither healthy or indeed will to get the best out of them or the children.

It is time for a radical rethink on marking – there are many different ways of feeding back to children. Teachers should be researchers and lead learning, not pen pushers, nor box tickers. I would be pushing every Head Teacher in the constituency to reduce any expectations on a school’s marking policy. Educational Research shows children learn best when teachers understand their learning needs, have deep subject knowledge and know how to apply it with skill. That is not acquired by jumping through hoops – we have stressed, over assessed, children and teachers, for no purpose other than to mainly highlight social inequality.

Money would be better spent allowing teachers from across schools to work in research teams, to lead learning and develop, locally. This, in essence is what Labour achieved with the London Challenge and we could do this in Furness too. Time to prepare exciting lessons and actually think about learning would liberate our educators locally. It would inspire the children and prevent burnout of the teachers. Again, there should be more opportunities to develop cutting edge teaching training for all, to develop our future Head Teachers. If there is physical space in local schools, let it be used for training or free space for speech therapists, outdoor educators, sports specialists, artists or musicians in return for sharing their expertise with all local teachers and classes.

  • Early Years, Early Identification

I oppose strongly any attempt to introduce the Early Years’ baseline assessment. It is ill conceived, wastes time and cannot be an accurate measure. We must have a moratorium on assessment and curriculum change. OFSTED’s Framework of 2019 should be the last for four years. Put time into moderation and discussing how children learn. Speaking of OFSTED, recent local inspections have shown not only the inconsistency and inaccuracy of judgements but also how little parents’ value them now. They know our schools better than any inspection. The idea that OFSTED will soon focus more on the curriculum is very welcome but it needs to be with other expectations taken out, not just more and more evidence to be demanded.

Childcare for the youngest of our children is of paramount importance. Labour would extend 30-hour provision and drive up places for 2 year-olds. There should be a recognition how difficult this is in rural areas and also an understanding that we have a speech and language issue in Barrow that needs tackling early – children are arriving at Nursery with very little language. Every school should be working daily with parents to support them to give their child the best start; no matter what their financial situation. We need our professionals such as School Nurses back and more programmes such as Let’s Talk run directly in schools with parents.

  • Fair and Equal Support for Schools

Education is now a mixed economy. This should be overseen by a National Educational Service which would provide a fair and just system of accountability for all. Academies can be successful and so can maintained schools – however, the practice of favouring academies or forcing schools to academies is wrong and has no basis in educational research whatsoever. Council underfunding is ideologically driven and too often it is Regional Schools Commissioners who hold sway with no accountability. Also, Multi -Academy Trusts should be fully inspected with the same rigour as Local Authorities – individual schools and shouldn’t be allowed to make financial decisions that have no educational basis but affect other providers. Likewise, while business investment from firms in local schools is welcome it shouldn’t be selective. The Free School experiment has been a free for all and should be halted.

The market must not determine how we educate – that is what the Conservatives believe in – sell off responsibility, pull up the drawbridge and set school against school. They call it freedom – it is a mirage. Socialism is about everyone working together for the common good. It is not the enemy of progress, it is the enemy of inequality. Furness children deserve better – teachers deserve better – you deserve better. Labour can provide better.

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Promoted by Christopher Altree – 5 Middlecliff, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA14 4EH

© Christopher Altree 2019