Labour’s policies for improving schools seem conspicuously absent

Labour needs to set out a clear vision for dealing with the problems described by Ofsted.

Labour needs to set out a clear vision for dealing with the problems described by Ofsted

This week has seen two significant educational publications: Ofsted’s annual report of schools in England and statistics on primary school pupils’ attainment in tests at 11.

The Ofsted report and the data show many schools and their children, including those in disadvantaged areas, doing well, but also highlight the gap between the educational outcomes of the most disadvantaged children and their peers.

The Ofsted report also highlights a tail-end of under performing schools. Inequalities in children’s outcomes and weak schools are educational challenges of most rich countries.

While the government and Ofsted have a clear vision to deal with these issues, Labour’s voice seems absent.

While the teaching profession often has strong opinions about Ofsted, its schools report tells a story that most of them will recognise. Primary schools in England are better, but progress to improve secondary schools has stalled.

Ofsted draws attention to the importance of school leadership, which is crucial in determining the quality of education.

The annual report highlights the gap between the educational outcomes of the poorest children and their more advantaged peers. Some 67 per cent of children on free school meals achieve Level 4 in reading, writing and maths in tests taken in the last year of primary education, compared with 79 per cent of all children.

There are big variations between schools and local authorities in the education outcomes of poor children. In London, poor children do better, but there are many prosperous areas where this is not the case, Poole and Cambridgeshire, for example.

It is essential that schools do their best for pupils. But children’s home environment has a far larger impact on their exam results and their life chances.

Research has shown that factors such as parenting styles, mothers’ qualifications, the numbers of books in the house and time spent reading to children all influence educational outcomes more than schools. Household income is also associated with educational outcomes.

Ofsted has recognised the importance of parenting. Its early years report, published this spring, states that a defining factor of a good nursery is the way that it engages with parents to help their children’s learning at home.

More controversially, Ofsted’s chief, Michael Wilshaw, has stated that ‘bad’ parents should be fined, a view with which I disagree strongly. The distinction between bad and good parents is open to interpretation and fining the bad ones among us will do little to make them better.

The government, too, has a clear view about the direction of education policy and parenting support. It has concentrated on making secondary education more rigorous, but has also extended nursery education to cover the most disadvantaged two year olds.

The early intervention programme and the Family Nurse Partnership are programmes that target specific groups of parents with intensive support.

But Labour’s vision for schools and for improving the education of the most disadvantaged children seems conspicuously absent. Instead, the shadow education minister Tristram Hunt has set out gimmicks.

These include an Hippocratic Oath for teachers or better links between private and state schools. I struggle to find convincing Labour policies on improving schools and nurseries, on narrowing the achievement gaps, on Sure Start and on supporting good parenting.

Six months before a general election, Labour needs to do a lot better.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. She writes in a personal capacity.

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16 Responses to “Labour’s policies for improving schools seem conspicuously absent”

  1. swat

    The main and chief problem is discipline, or the lack of it, in schools generally.
    Very little to do social deprivation or attention disorders or comprehensive schools or anything else for that matter An orderly class means everybody benefits even the potential bullires aand attention seekers and dyslexics or whatever..

  2. madasafish

    As the main school unions have a policy of opposing anything that changes or calls them to account, a lack of policy is hardly surprising.

  3. RoyB

    The big weakness in secondary education has always been in its curriculum offer. Essentially, this hasn’t changed much in over a hundred years and it simply fails to motivate very many pupils as it bears little relation to their interests and everyday lives. Until someone grasps this nettle and introduces a curriculum which inspires the whole range of abilities, aptitudes and interests, we shall continue to struggle at secondary level. It’s not just about an “academic” grounding in preparation for University as it was in origin. Does no-one remember The Animal School, with its ducks forced to run, its rabbits forced to swim, and its squirrel forced to fly from the ground up?!

    As a start, we need to be clear about actual desired outcomes from the secondary system, rather than the crude analogues provided by exam results. How about confident, motivated, creative students for starters? We might get somewhere then, rather than mouthing platitudes about undefined “rigour,” “standards,” and “quality” – and especially “gold plated qualifications.”

  4. Ian Duncan

    What do you expect with a no-mark like Tristram Hnt at the helm? He was on Question Time a few months ago with Michael Gove a pretty much agreed with everything Gove said.

    Another timid fop, scared of his own shadow.

  5. Mike Stallard

    James, we both know that the Blob has secured its aims in getting rid of Michael Gove and replacing him with someone or other from the nomenklatura. The way is now open for the Unions and the Civil Service and the half million teachers to increase their pay and conditions and to achieve a ‘fair’ settlement. Education? Szmeducation!

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    Ofsted generally *are* the problem.

    Can’t be allowing anyone trained in teaching near controlling it in the UK now, though, right. Nope, you’re after turning off even more people from being teachers with “Oaths” and getting public schools into what’s basically subsidising some state schools.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    The problem there being that we don’t have an improved economy, we have a bubble in the City.

  8. Guest

    No, your policy is not that of the Union’s,

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    So what exactly are you proposing?

    That you link dyslexic people in with bullies and attention seekers…well…not a good start.

  10. JoeDM

    “How about confident, motivated, creative students for starters?”

    And that is just what the private sector does so well and what parents pay for.

  11. RoyB

    So? And why doesn’t the State provision do likewise? Because of a stultifying curriculum and consraints on what State schools are allowed to do. I sometimes think that right-wing politicians actually want State schools to fail, the educational diet they insist on being so lacking in nutrition. And it’s not even mainly about money. Every student who leaves school bored, demotivated and turned off by education represents an almost total waste of the resources devoted to his/ her education. We need to liberate secondary schools to allow the development of a curriculum to stimulate each and every student and do away with our obsession with exam-based “qualifications” which qualify no-one for anything and are actually mere credentials to assist University Admissions Tutors – and they’re not even very good at that.

  12. Nick London

    My feeling is that state primaries have improved in significant part over the years, particularly in London, partly because in rapidly gentrifying areas there is very significant number of educated demanding parents engaging with the school, able to articulate concerns about performance, raising funds etc. there is a social mix. It’s a virtuous circle with teachers and staff more engaged. Everyone is a stakeholder. I heard the phrase “state till eight” the other day for the first time. It made me sick. Secondaries flounder, by extension, because those parents take their kids out, and the class system is thereby perpetuated for another generation. So when is someone going to address the real problem: that the private school system perpetuates all sorts of social evils and should no longer benefit from state financial support in the form of preferential tax treatment.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    No surprise you confuse “confident, motivated, creative” with “rich”, which is the criteria of going to a private school.

    You simply think people are better for being rich.

  14. Leon Wolfeson, having proper qualifications at 18 is important. The problem is we don’t focus on an education leading up to testing at 18, there’s constant testing from VERY early ages.

    (If you deny people QCF qualifications at 18, then large employers won’t take them and they’ll struggle to get jobs with them, or to work abroad, even if they have a degree)

    That’s quite different from making the National Curriculum advisory, as in Finland, among other changes…

  15. RoyB

    Depends what you mean by “proper.” As for QCF, WTF?

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Exactly, you don’t know the basics of the topic. The people you’d saddle without proper, recognised qualifications wouldn’t be GOING to University. Or into any kind of decent training, either.

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