Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Don’t look to Tristram Hunt and New Labour if you want to defend education

Parties of poverty, privatisation and privilege

Millions of voters, angered at the poverty, privatisation and privilege promoted by this Coalition, hope that Cameron and Clegg will be thrown out of office this May. The question is, who they can vote for that offers any real alternative instead?

Far from reversing austerity, Ed Miliband has made crystal clear that severe cuts will continue under New Labour, as he declared this week that “ours is a plan to cut the deficit every year”. In practice, of course, these recessionary cuts will continue into the future but the deficit will remain.

Under New Labour, “Academies are here to stay”

When it comes to education, Shadow Minister Tristram Hunt has also made very clear that very little will change under New Labour. As he put it last March "I don't think you want to waste political energy on undoing reforms, that in certain situations build actually rather successfully on Labour policy". In other words, the support for academies that began under Tony Blair, and then expanded by Michael Gove, will continue if a Labour government is elected in May.

The NUT’s education manifesto – endorsed by TUSC – calls on a future government to “stop the forced academies programme immediately” and “return oversight of all state funded schools to local authorities
. In contrast, the 2014 ‘Blunkett Review’ of party education policy made clear that, under New Labour, “Academies are here to stay ”.

Why? Even the Department for Education has had to admit that sponsored academies do no better than comparable local authority schools. As a Southwark Governor writing in the ‘New Statesman’ asked recently in frustration "Why didn’t Labour jump on this? What could be better than exposing the Tories’ deceitful use of statistics at the same time as denouncing forced academisation as a waste of money, devoid of an evidence base, anti-democratic and a clear statement that the government thinks it knows better than parents what is best for their children?" (http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/11/coalition-s-flawed-academy-programme-political-gift-labour-refuses-accept)

The answer, regrettably, is that New Labour is now fully signed-up to the pro-market policies of the international Global Education Reform Movement. Like other GERM adherents, Hunt, Blunkett and their ilk will argue that the 'type of school is irrelevant’; it’s just ‘the quality of teaching’ that matters. Firstly, that approach is designed to put the blame on teachers, ignoring the effect of class, poverty, and the ever-widening inequality that continuing ‘austerity’ will bring. Secondly, it is a policy designed to promote the hiving-off of schools to edu-businesses and the removal of democratic local authority organisation of schools. Above all, it is a policy that will divide and worsen education, not improve it.

The recent efforts by Lewisham Labour Council to impose an Interim Executive Board at Sedgehill School provide clear evidence of the way New Labour policy is going. It also shows that it isn’t enough just to argue for schools to be returned to Local Authority control. We also need to extend how that local democracy operates. I think we should rebuild the traditions of the directly-elected London School Board that did so much to develop education at the end of the nineteenth century. An accountable Board including elected representatives of school staff, parents, governors, local trade unionists, community organisations and secondary school students could work together to genuinely develop community schooling.

Tristram Hunt – a Tory in disguise?

Given the lack of real difference in policy between all the main parties, it’s not surprising that in a YouGov poll commissioned for the NUT a year ago, 25% of teachers already didn't know which party they could bring themselves to vote for. That figure can surely only have increased after what Tristram Hunt has had to say in the last twelve months:

  • Tristram calls for teachers to pass ‘re-licensing’ tests or face the sack
Instead of calling for schools to be given the time, support and resources they need to meet students' needs, last January Hunt joined with Gove in blaming teachers for the problems of education. It seems that New Labour are happy to adopt the same punitive, demoralising policies designed to pressurise teachers into maintaining their intolerable workload for fear of being 'failed'.
Just one of the many tweets to Tristram
  • Tristram’s insulting ‘oath’ for teachers
In October, Tristram Hunt called for teachers to make an 'oath' declaring their commitment to the profession. His suggestion was met with widespread derision and anger. To question teachers’ commitment, so soon after the NUT’s workload survey had exposed the reality of the excessive workload facing teachers, took some doing. In fact, it was new Tory Minister Nicky Morgan that first realised she should acknowledge that there was a genuine teacher workload issue to resolve, not Labour’s ‘opposition’ spokesperson.
  • Gimmicks instead of genuine action to counter private school privilege
In November, Hunt called on private schools (where he received his own education) to do more to support state schools. Back in 2006, Gordon Brown was at least prepared to make the ( now long-forgotten ) promise that a Labour Government would aim to match the spending per pupil in private schools in the state sector. In 2014, Hunt just offered gimmicks like making private school pupils play football with state schools.
  • Hunt turns to Winston Churchill and his ‘British spirit’
In December, Hunt made a speech calling on schools to “do more to build pupils' character and resilience”, referencing Winston Churchill and the ‘British spirit’. As a historian, you’d think Hunt might remember that Churchill was thrown out decisively in 1945 by workers demanding a real ‘land fit for heroes’. The ‘British spirit’ shown then was the determination of working people to demand a decent future for their families, not some stoic acceptance of poverty and inequality. Our community schools do everything they can to support young people. What they need is for politicians like Hunt to stop making empty speeches and to start investing in the jobs, homes and education needed for their futures.
  • New Year – and another vacuous pro-market article
Hunt’s New Year article in the Observer was trailed as one that might finally start to win back teacher support. In reality it was devoid of any significant changes. Another blog has already exposed its empty rhetoric, offering “no reversing of structural reform, no halting of curriculum changes, and no ending of the assault on teachers through PRP”  

So who do teachers vote for in May?

In May, do voters just have to make-do with the ‘lesser evil’ of Labour, particularly when Tristram Hunt’s education policies hardly seem ‘less evil’ at all?! There has to be a better alternative for teachers and parents to vote for!

Some teachers will look to the Greens, who undoubtedly have a far better education policy than Labour. Like TUSC, they have endorsed the NUT’s Manifesto for Education. However, it has to be pointed out that, when elected, the Greens have failed to make a stand against Government cuts. Brighton’s Green administration, elected on a mandate to 'resist austerity', is on course to have cut £50 million from jobs and services in the last three years.

I believe that we need elected representatives that will refuse to implement cuts and use their positions to build a mass movement of workers, service users and communities to demand services are properly funded by central Government. That’s the policy of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, supported by the Socialist Party and others such as the RMT Union - and the late Bob Crow. 

I believe that we need to rebuild genuine representation for trade unionists and working people in Parliament and in our local Councils, to provide a voice that the Labour Party no longer provides. That's why I will be supporting – and hopefully standing myself - for TUSC in the General Election this May.

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