Friday, 27 September 2019
This article was written for - and published - in The Socialist newspaper, 25 September 2019 . I would also add that Labour also need to make clear to staff working in independent schools that their jobs and livelihoods would be protected in the transition to private schools becoming part of the state sector.
Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, announced at her party's conference that a Labour government will abolish tuition fees, provide free nursery education for all two to four year olds, cap the cost of school uniforms and end the hated Ofsted inspection regime.
These promises alone could help enthuse young voters, parents and school staff into campaigning to elect Jeremy Corbyn. But conference went further still.
Rayner had been far less clear about how Labour's promised 'National Education Service' would include private and academy schools. However, delegates voted for motions that called for a complete end to both of them!
The growth of academies was supported by both the Tories and Blair's 'New Labour'. It represented a conscious attempt to create a market of competing chains of schools, making it easier to slash education spending, especially on central services previously provided by local authorities, and to undermine national pay and conditions for school staff.
Nearly half of England's pupils now attend academy schools, run by a chaotic array of hundreds of different 'multi academy trusts'. Of course, they haven't improved education - only the bank balances of those who control them.
The evidence about the failings of the academy model has been growing, along with many vociferous local campaigns against them. Yet too many Labour councils have failed to oppose academisation.
Local authority control
The successful motion called for all publicly funded schools to be under the control of their local authority through "reformed, democratically accountable local education committees with stakeholder representation".
This could, if developed fully, allow genuine democratic control of schools through elected representatives of the local community, parents, trade unions and school students.
The motion stated that the committees must be "the default providers of services and appropriately funded". Reversal of education cuts will certainly be vital to allow all children and schools to thrive, supported through central services that can make sure all needs are met.
Labour conference also voted to remove private schools' phoney 'charitable status', to redistribute their wealth to state education institutions, and for a quota that would only allow universities to admit the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population. That's only 7% - but they make up around 40% of successful Oxbridge entrants.
Britain's wealthy have never had to worry themselves about the pressures on state schools. For them, the existence of a separate system of elite private education has allowed them to buy schooling for their children providing far smaller class sizes and a wider curriculum than the increasingly narrow diet enforced on working-class youth.
As austerity bites, the proportion of pupils from state schools attending university has started to fall, particularly in the top 'Russell Group' institutions.
Of course, the wealthy will not allow any of their privileges, educational or otherwise, to simply be voted out of existence. However, the fact that Labour delegates supported the motion is a reflection of the huge anger against growing inequality in society, not just in education but in our workplaces and communities.
If Corbyn can convince workers that he understands that anger, and has a programme to address it, then the Tories can be thrown out of office.