The big question for the Labour Party is whether or not it can develop a decent set of ideas about how they go about improving standards across the board in the education system. Typically, the 2017 offer was characterised by flashy policies around higher education funding- an absurdly niche concern when considered in the wider context of educational policy. We know they can talk about this; but can they go beyond and offer new ideas to a wider range of problems? There was also that confusing pledge to pour money into adult education, not bad idea- but it vastly outweighed the amount pledged to schools and FE, which begged the question: why should we invest double in re-educating people when we could invest in giving everyone access to a world class education in the first place? Areas to look out for:
- Will they have something to say about Sixth Forms? Demand will grow as more students will be expected to leave school at 18. Sixths Forms are the crucial bridge between GCSEs and further study or work. Currently, Labour policy is limited to the reintroduction of EMA. How do will the Labour Party ensure students are making good choices in a complex system? After Mathematics, the most popular subject is Psychology. Are students combining this with a range of sciences in order to maximise their chances of studying this successfully at university? Students are keen to study subjects like Sociology at university- this is the tenth most popular A Level. Great, but are they being made aware of the fact that many universities consider this to be a Masters level academic discipline? Expect to hear about the quality of careers advice on this. Beyond that, how can the system tackle the inequalities being created by a de facto grammar system of academic selection? What role can Sixth Forms play in improving access for particular groups into university? Instead of pointless retakes of core subjects for small groups of students who underachieved, how can we ensure that all students continue to learn core subjects at an appropriate level until they leave school? No country that is serious about ‘competing on the global market’ or maintaining a services/innovation orientated economy can afford for people to be totally abandoning Maths at the age of 16.
- Get rid of GCSEs. This idea has been floating around for a whole. They are archaic. Universities don’t use them to the extent they used to. Employers will increasingly see them as limited. Will Labour have something to say about what the educational journey in the UK looks like when you have removed the assumption that your life is determined by what you learnt at the age of 16?
- What about SEN? Children with special educational needs (a term I hate) are given a raw deal at the moment and everyone knows it. Some schools are taking on the bulk of the work with little recognition. Others schools are being actively rewarded on results day if they have managed to shaft the responsibility for these results onto another provider. This, combined with the exclusions crisis, is a social justice disaster and any party that wants to talk about creating an equal and civilised society should have ideas about how we tackle this. The Labour Party needs a short-term plan that immediately addresses the futures of those being failed today and a long-term plan that addresses this across the system by nurturing the right institutions and developing the right leaders.
Any signs of these being discussed will be encouraging and will show the Labour Party is moving away from flashier voter registration-orientated subjects.