More effective regulation of academies and free schools and better local coordination of education must be at the heart of political parties’ manifesto commitments ahead of the General Election, a fringe meeting organised by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, heard.
Chaired by NASUWT President Geoff Branner, the packed fringe-Beyond 2015: Who should run our schools? at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester examined the impact of the opening up of the schools system to private companies on children and young people’s education and on the democracy, transparency and equity of our education system.
Speakers were Kevin Brennan, Shadow Minister of State for Schools, Dr Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT, Rick Muir, Associate Director for Policy at the think-tank IPPR and Karin Christiansen, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:
“Our public education system must be about entitlement for children and young people.
“Children should not be subject to a postcode lottery with access to high quality education varying according to where they live.
“In order to ensure that all children and young people receive their education entitlements, it is critical that those who run our schools are committed to social justice and equality and are democratically accountable.”
Dr Patrick Roach told the meeting:
“We must ensure there is public and democratic accountability for our education system and ensure that teacher professionalism, and indeed the professionalism of the workforce as a whole within schools, is properly valued and respected.
“We have seen unprecedented powers put into the hands of the Secretary of State for Education, including powers to close schools, to restructure provision in local areas, to open free schools irrespective of local need and the power to force academisation.
“But we can see the strains beginning to show in the system and we can see the failures in some of those schools.”
Kevin Brennan said:
“A belief in collaboration is the best way to bring about school improvement and that will be at the centre of Labour’s policy.
“The free school policy is based on a right-wing ideology that you get improvement through market forces.
“We will make sure that schools that are doing well will share that expertise and share their learning with other schools.”
Karin Christiansen said:
“There is a very serious value-driven agenda underlying this debate about who should run our schools.
“We need collaboration, not competition, as the mechanism for improvement and for schools to succeed.”
Rick Muir said:
“We think school autonomy in certain areas is a good thing. We want teachers to have autonomy in the pedagogy they use and flexibility around the curriculum.
“But we have ended up with a situation where we have apparent school autonomy, but also a heavy degree of centralisation in other areas.
“The Secretary of State has almost Napoleonic powers over the commissioning of thousands of secondary schools.”