Teachwell | Time to Link Social Mobility and Education Again
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Time to Link Social Mobility and Education Again

flickr photo by openDemocracy https://flickr.com/photos/opendemocracy/7650085780 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“I’m not interested in what Labour has to say anymore.” So said the other half, while turning over from Chris Leslie’s response to a question about the possibility of a Greek exit from the Euro. How many others currently feel the same way?


The Labour Party at the moment remind me of the Conservatives during the Blair years. That they are already mooting a change in leadership before the next election, while the current one has yet to be elected, is a farce. I think it has taken the Labour Party a while to realise (again, just as the Conservatives had to during the 1990s) that having a previous long run in office is no guarantee of a quick turn-around back into power. New Labour’s crowning achievement was actually repudiating the idea that the Conservatives were better at managing the economy. This left the Tories adrift in a manner they were not used to.


While education is not as important as the economy for most people, it is still up there. So how can Labour gain any ground in this area, which Gove wrestled from them?


What can Labour do?


Renounce their link to the academies? It would seem that some of the leadership candidates and new MPs are willing to do just that. The problem is that this involves turning back the clock. The Conservatives never managed it with grammar schools and I don’t think Labour can with academies. If privatisation occurs in the end, then the Labour Party will still have to accept their role in the process that led to it. After all, even Thatcher didn’t take schools out of LA control.


Attack the education secretary repeatedly? Nicky Morgan, despite her lack of solid facts at times, is affable. Having seen her in the flesh during a pre-election Education Question Time, I was impressed with her manner and ability to hold her own. She is not combative like Gove and does not slip into insults. However she is not weak as people imagined she would be. To be honest Christine Blower and Sam Pancheri (Green Party Candidate) may have appealed to the diehard unionists at the meeting, but I was left cold by their over-emotional appeals about testing 4 year olds. The Labour Party candidate, sensing that his main rival was the greens, joined in the chorus.


Nicky, on the other hand, calmly described her experience of her son’s home visit prior to starting school, the fact that the teacher did ask him questions that would give her an idea of some of his abilities and how unperturbed her son was. In addition, she, quite rightly, pointed out that most 4 year olds would not find using an iPad a stressful activity. No doubt any anxiety they will pick up will come from adults.


Other than Howard Stevenson, she is the only one I rated on the panel, who were simply making empty, popularist appeals with no substance. Talking of which, I am sure that I am not the only one who despaired when Tristam Hunt nailed his colours to Sir Ken Robinson’s flag. In one fell swoop, he managed to make voting Labour a challenge, knowing that the education policy would be a nonsense had they got into power.


The current Labour Party needs to reflect. The ‘trendy lefty’ teachers of the seventies did not mirror the Labour Party’s own education policies or values, neither did the Labour Party accommodate theirs. Their heirs, however, held sway over New Labour and infected their education policies. It shifted the party away from seeing education as a means of social mobility. The Conservative commitment to social mobility is shaky – for example, ending grants – however Labour cannot win this ground with their current attitudes and ideas.


It is they who should have been reading Hirsch’s books, not Gove. They need to listen to why some teachers favoured Gove’s ideas, and they need to create an education policy with substance that teachers can get behind not vague ideas and aspirations.


More importantly, get someone in the education post who actually knows the impact it can have on social mobility to the same extent that Gove did. For all his faults, he completely understood and knew that he embodied the ideal of bettering oneself through education. It is this more than anything else that makes him and I similar, and why I found myself agreeing with him. It’s time to bandage the liberal bleeding hearts and form a policy that the Conservatives cannot match in either style or substance.


The original post was published on the Labour Teachers website.

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