Commenting on Keir Starmer’s pledge to shatter the ‘class ceiling’ and undertake reform of the education system, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said;
This announcement sketches a broad and ambitious programme of reform. If implemented boldly and funded well, it will repair much of the damage of the last thirteen years.
Teachers will be relieved that Labour recognises the multiple reasons for the teacher recruitment and retention problems. Labour is right to point to the failure of the current Government to engage in serious talks about recruitment, retention and the restoration of teachers’ pay. Labour should commit to a collective bargaining mechanism that can determine pay and conditions for all state funded teachers. Addressing the current exodus from the profession will require a sustained, real-terms fully funded correction in teachers’ pay and effective action to reduce sky-high workload.
The NEU warmly welcomes the promised review of curriculum and assessment. The current assessment system narrows the curriculum and places excessive pressure on staff and pupils alike. Its problems cannot be dealt with by minor tinkering so this proposed review will be important. It is heartening that Labour will look at large-scale change. Progress 8, which Labour proposes to use for an indefinite period as an accountability metric, is a major contributor to the curriculum narrowing that Labour recognise as a problem. It must be broadened in the first instance and abolished as soon as possible after that.
The NEU shares with Labour a belief that without addressing poverty and disadvantage education reform will not succeed. Following the examples of the Labour government in Wales and of Sadiq Khan, Labour Mayor of London, the Party should make a commitment to universal free school meals for all primary school children, as part of a poverty reduction programme.
We welcome the stress on the importance of early years education and note Labour's recent recognition of the importance of Maintained Nursery Schools, scandalously neglected by the current government. Reviewing the curriculum and its assessment are one important element of responding to the SEND crisis, as the current accountability and ‘exam factory’ pressures are incompatible with inclusion and good outcomes for all students.
The NEU welcomes the confirmation that Ofsted will be moved away from the use of single grades. School staff will be looking to further and more substantial change, that emphasises support for schools instead of punitive accountability. Regional Improvement Teams could be effective if they are based on genuine collaboration between schools and advisers.
Schools have lived for many years through a deluge of policies that have been illogical, draconian and ill-informed. There is potential that Labour’s policy announcement marks the beginning of a new period, in which the multiple problems of the education system are addressed seriously, collaboratively and with a full understanding that significant change requires significant investment.