The left needs to talk about education again

The faux outrage caused by #LondonIsOpen and the – in my view – questionable decision to make the London New Years Eve fireworks about the EU flag symbolised a wider problem for the left that has emerged over the last two years. Our political debate, and the quality of our ideas, has been increasingly reduced by Brexit. I’m not flag waver for Jeremy Corbyn but I thought it was interesting that of all the political betrayals of his own wing of the party- on immigration, on the budget surplus, on antisemitism- it was  his view on the issue of a second referendum that outraged his loyal fan base the most. This is concerning. Whilst I am as anti-Brexit as you can get, and whilst I have an emotional attachment to our continental neighbors, I have never felt that the wider European project is much more than a means to a social democratic end; it now, however, is becoming a hallmark of your left-wingness.

Even the New Labour wing of the party, as pro-European as it always has been, has typically viewed the EU as better off when its not a political priority; a tactical weapon for dividing the Conservatives not a core component of left wing identity. Yet, here we are with the Labour Party almost as divided as the opposition on the question with a base of young activists more clued up on questions of EU treaty law than revitalising public services. No, it is not the left’s fault that we ended up here but this year we need to turn our focus back on to the crises that are slowly dismantling any remaining achievements of the New Labour governments: the healthcare crisis, the terrifying rise in homelessness, the spread of violent crime and – what this blog is about – the new challenges facing our education system; amongst many, many others.

I won’t go into much greater detail here but if you are interested, these are the areas I think the left need to focus on. There are no simple policy fixes for these; this is where we need new ideas:

  1. Shifting our system from one concerned with outcomes to ethics to support better standards. This should be underpinned by an understanding that a narrow focus on outcomes has driven a race to middle in terms of standards, not a race to the top.
  2. The road from the classroom to the prison cell- a thorough rethinking of current support in place in schools and councils to address the disproportionate punishment of students from ethnic minorities, with SEND needs and in receipt of free school meals across the system.
  3. Lifelong education- I’ve argued against the disproportionate funding of adult education programmes over schools programmes in the Labour party’s last manifesto if the left’s primary concern is to tackle social mobility. However, there is no doubt that if we are to tackle issues of homelessness, social integration and technological progress we need to rethink our assumptions about access to education post-18. It is not a privilege for the few, or the intelligent, it is vital to our national success.


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