NVEG Response to the Labour Party National Policy Forum consultation – Draft National Education Service Charter

Labour’s Draft Charter for a National Education Service

The policies of the UK Labour Party are developed through its National Policy Forum (NPF) in partnership with party members, stakeholders and the wider community.  The Forum has eight policy commissions one of which is concerned with Early Years, Education and Skills.

The Party has a policy commitment included in its 2017 General Election Manifesto to establish and develop a National Education Service. At the Party’s Annual Conference  in September 2017, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner announced a Draft Charter for the National Education Service. The draft was then widely distributed  for consultation requesting responses to be made to the National Policy Forum’s Early Years, Education and Skills Commission

Consultees were asked to comment on ten key principles intended to guide the National Education Service.

These ten principles are –

1. Education has intrinsic value in giving all people access to the common body of knowledge we share,
and practical value in allowing all to participate fully in our society. These principles shall guide the
National Education Service.
2. The National Education Service shall provide education that is free at the point of use, available
universally and throughout life.
3. The National Education Service provides education for the public good and all providers within the
National Education Service shall be bound by the principles of this charter.
4. High quality education is essential to a strong and inclusive society and economy, so the National
Education Service shall work alongside the health, sustainability, and industrial policies set by
democratically elected government.
5. Every child, and adult, matters, so the National Education Service will be committed to tackling all
barriers to learning, and providing high-quality education for all.
6. All areas of skill and learning deserve respect; the National Education Service will provide all forms of
education, integrating academic, technical and other forms of learning within and outside of
educational institutions, and treating all with equal respect.
7. Educational excellence is best achieved through collaboration and the National Education Service will
be structured to encourage and enhance cooperation across boundaries and sectors.
8. The National Education Service shall be accountable to the public, communities, and parents and
children that it serves. Schools, colleges, and other public institutions within the National Education
Service should be rooted in their communities, with parents and communities empowered, via
appropriate democratic means, to influence change where it is needed and ensure that the
education system meets their needs. The appropriate democratic authority will set, monitor and
allocate resources, ensuring that they meet the rights, roles, and responsibilities of individuals and
institutions.
9. The National Education Service aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism.
Educators and all other staff will be valued as highly-skilled professionals, and appropriate
accountability will be balanced against giving genuine freedom of judgement and innovation. The
National Education Service shall draw on evidence and international best practice, and provide
appropriate professional development and training.
10. The National Education Service must have the utmost regard to the well-being of learners and
educators, and its policies and practices, particularly regarding workload, assessment, and
inspection, will support the emotional, social and physical well-being of students and staff

RESPONSE FROM THE NEW VISIONS FOR EDUCATION GROUP

The purpose, importance and value of education

Article 1 understates the purpose, importance and value of education. As it stands the Article indicates that the National Education Service will be guided by two “principles” – the first that education has intrinsic value in giving all people access to knowledge and the second that it has practical value in “allowing all to participate fully in society”.

We do not believe that this is language capable of inspiring the enthusiasm for the National Education Service which it deserves. The two statements are not in fact principles but rather statements of purpose and fall far short of expressing the opportunities that education offers to the individual and to society as a whole.

We therefore offer the following as an alternative to Article 1

Labour’s National Education Service is a public service. Its underlying principle is that a publicly- funded education service is an exercise in cooperation. It is a service in which parents, teachers, governing bodies, trade unions, civic society and providers of education services, local or national, share a common purpose. That purpose is to work together to provide, so far as circumstances permit, from the earliest years and lifelong, an education service designed to enable everyone to lead a fulfilling personal and civic life while helping others to do so. Education is to be provided, with equal care, to meet the different needs of people of all origins and beliefs. It will promote a collaborative, inclusive and equitable service that provides a high-quality education for all, ranks practical learning as highly as academic learning, and values the personal development and well- being of the individual as highly as their and society’s economic and occupational needs. It will prepare and equip people with the aspirations, attitudes, confidence and adaptability for the challenging world in which we live.

In addition, we offer the following observations

Government and management of education

Missing from the draft Charter is a clear statement of who governs and manages the provision of education at a national and local level. No doubt it is implicit that the management of pedagogy will take place at institutional level rooted, as the Charter describes, in communities (Article 8). This, however, is not enough. It perpetuates the deficiency in strategic management of the system as a whole which has caused profoundly damaging fragmentation of our public education service since the mid-1980s most recently through the mass contracting-out of school provision to a huge array of third-party provides via the academies programme, and the disintegration of further education. This is both undemocratic and unsustainable.

The National Government must have the overall responsibility in any system of public education for setting out the overarching aspirations and aims, structure and resourcing of the National Education Service to meet the needs of individuals, society and the nation. This duty should consist of the Government setting up arrangements intended to reach national agreement about the objectives which should shape and inform the National Education Service, and how the nation is to know whether or not they are being achieved. However, once those objectives and the overarching curricular framework are established, the content and methodology must be left to those actively involved in the education process aided by whatever specialist/expert support they need to develop and assess what is taught and learned.

The draft Charter makes a commitment to accountability through the need to balance appropriate democratic structures with freedom of judgement for highly skilled education professionals. However, it attributes to “appropriate democratic authorities” only the role of supplying resources. These authorities must be able to do more.

The Charter should make a clear distinction between the management of individual institutions and the strategic management of the service in area-based subdivisions of the National Service. There is a debate to take place and decisions to be made about the size of each subdivision and the detail of its role and functions. The area-based subdivisions of the National Education Service should be public authorities which are democratically accountable to their areas and have local legitimacy. Such authorities must have clear links to other local services including children’s care services, health services, careers and guidance provision, transport, economic development and cultural activities. The use of existing elected bodies (local councils and combined authorities) should be investigated in order to use public elections efficiently and the corporate resources (capital and revenue finance, human resources etc) of existing bodies effectively.

These authorities must have the duty with sufficient powers, set out in statute, to bring coherence to the currently fragmented local education system, provide clarity about the role of local provision for parents and learners, ensure equal access to provision, and work towards guaranteeing an entitlement to provision to meet each person’s educational needs. This is to be achieved by both elected and appointed local area-based professional officials working together.

Control of the content of education and its future development

Arrangements for determining the content of the early years, school and college curriculum, including its assessment arrangements, have become unbalanced. The last 30 years have seen too much, and too frequent, national government interference based on individual politicians’ beliefs and prejudices that have resulted in a narrow test-focused school experience for our young people. Parliament has neither the time, procedures nor expertise to prevent a Secretary of State determined to impose personal partialities on the curriculum and its assessment arrangements.

At the primary and secondary, further and skills provider level there is a need to review the current curriculum and develop one that educates all, not some; that lessens the stranglehold of testing and examinations; that values the arts, technology, vocational and life skills as well as the traditional academic subjects; and that is based on developing individuals, allowing them to grow as creative, questioning and knowledgeable citizens. Creating a productive workforce for a future economy, whatever it may bring, is important, this need must not dominate the school and college curriculum.

The knowledge and understanding of how to develop the curriculum lies with school leaders, teachers, educationalists working with Higher Education, parents, lay governors, employers and representatives of our wider and diverse community.

Responsibility for setting out the National Education Service’s National Curriculum, within the Government’s overarching aspirations and aims, structure and resourcing, needs to be removed from the Secretary of State for Education and placed with a new Curriculum Commission. There is a debate to be had about how this should to be done. One possibility is a two-stage commission.

The first commission chaired by the Government would consist of representatives of all with a legitimate interest in what is taught and learned in our schools, with the task of determining the over-arching, national curricular and assessment framework after considering UK and international evidence. A second independent commission would consist of educationalists of various backgrounds intended to put the practical flesh on the framework’s bare bones. This may need separate curriculum and assessment wings with the assessment wing charged with removing the known defects of the current system: causing personal distress to examinees, teaching to the test, warping the curriculum in the direction of examinable subjects and material, playing down the proper role of educational aims in determining school content, and permitting privileged people to game the system in their favour.

If the National Education Service is to achieve its aims, the Secretary of State for Education should not be able to set out details of what is to be taught, and how things are assessed, without the support of the commission. Otherwise, the NES will be reduced to the Secretary of State for Education’s Education Service.

Teachers

There is a shortage of teachers in all phases and most subjects; it is proving difficult to attract candidates for leadership posts; there is a major workload concern, largely resulting from accountability pressures and a culture which fails to value and trust members of the teaching profession. There is confusion about Initial Teacher Education with its bewildering diverse routes, multiple providers and variable quality. Teachers have suffered a severe loss of status and morale is low.

The Labour Party through the National Education Service must make clear commitments to tackle these issues. The Secretary of State must accept again a role of central oversight of the teaching workforce, its remuneration and supply. The requirement for all teachers working in publicly funded schools to have qualified teacher status must be restored. The routes into teaching must be rationalised and quality assured. The workload problem must be addressed with action not just words and the circumstances leading to the widely-held view, particularly among university students, that teachers are overworked and poorly rewarded must be changed. This is as much about a cultural change as one relating to specific duties and hours worked. Those who work in schools must be publicly valued and supported by governments. At present they feel powerless and undervalued.

The commitment in Labour’s Charter for the National Education Service to balance accountability with genuine freedom of judgement must be given real meaning. As a body of professional educators, teachers are conscientious and united in the moral purpose to do the best that they can for their pupils. The current prescriptive and time absorbing ‘box ticking’ is a serious diversion of teachers’ valuable time and capacities, which include both quantitative and qualitative evaluation of their own and pupils’ work, as well as learning from colleagues.

The youngest teachers may be in the profession for almost 50 years. Labour needs to make an irreversible commitment to the continuous professional development of all staff in its National Education Service to ensure their wide range of skills remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. Newly qualified teachers should have an entitlement to locally or nationally co-ordinated professional learning for at least three further years after qualification, and there should be more incentives to pursue Masters level studies.

Right at the heart of the NES there should be a centre of excellence in teaching practice and leadership. Labour should have no fear of developing the Chartered College of and re-establishing a National College of School Leadership as part of a strategy to support and develop both our current and future leaders and attract outstanding teachers into leadership.

In all of this there is a need to return to the imperative of teachers and schools working collaboratively and not in competition.

Admission to school and college

The NES enshrines the principle that ‘every child, and adult, matters’ and is committed to high quality education for all (Article 5). It will be essential to review school and college admissions policies and practices and establish a system that is fair to all children and young people and schools and colleges, with stronger local oversight. It will also be essential to have more coherent planning at the local level to ensure that not only are there sufficient school and college places, but also that diverse learning needs are met, and pathways provided through institutional co-operation. All state- funded schools and colleges must recognise a collective responsibility for the education of all children and young people in their community.

Admissions reform should tackle the problem that the admissions arrangements for some institutions, overtly or covertly, skew their intakes towards the higher-achieving and the better-off. This limits the opportunities of the less-advantaged. It also deprives other schools of a fully comprehensive intake and makes it much harder to sustain high quality education for all, especially where institutions are struggling to meet a high level of need for additional learning support. The power to set admissions arrangements should be removed from institutional level and vested in the local “appropriate democratic authority”.

Selection by ability or aptitude at eleven should be abolished. No test or teacher can predict with certainty how a child will develop within secondary education, what they will enjoy learning or what they will excel at. The 11-plus test for admission to grammar schools is wrong and unreliable; it falsely divides children into ‘the passed clever’ and ‘the failed rest’. There is increasing evidence that selection does not encourage social mobility despite claims to the contrary. Existing fully selective schools should be integrated into local school systems, where their strengths can combine with those of others to the benefit of all.

Out of school learning: Higher, further, adult, youth, leisure-time learning, lifelong and early years

There is not the space to go into these important areas of education in this short response. The National Education Service needs to set out its commitment to all areas of out of school learning based on the following two principles:

All these areas provide both personal advantages to the learner, and also contribute to the public good through achieving a more educated, qualified and socially committed population; and their funding must be sustainable through both personal contributions and state funding.

There needs to be a higher level of investment in the needs of potential and actual ‘NEETs’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training). The Youth Service needs to be revived and linked to both schools and FE Colleges. It should have a degree of professional and operational autonomy, but accountable to an elected body with both educational and employer interests represented.

Likewise, with both FE and HE where the imposition of fees has had a negative effect on learners, calling into question the sustainability of some institutions, and producing a managerial and not a learning culture.

As examples of the work of the New Visions for Education Group, and how it can contribute to the National Education Service, see below for ‘Early Years’ and ‘Lifelong Learning’.

Early Years

Early years provision must be an integral part of the National Education Service. The comments below extend the responses above to early years education.

Young children benefit from play-based learning and a child-centred curricular approach. Their experience of early education should enhance their wellbeing and enjoyment as well as fostering their natural propensity to learn. Giving due prominence to promoting young children’s social and emotional as well as their physical development creates the right conditions for promoting their cognitive development. While the early learning goals and their assessment must form part of the NES, they will be different from those for older children. Early years education cannot be reduced to a ‘box-ticking’ set of baseline assessments, targets and tests.

The commitment to early years education free at the point of delivery (Article 2) is welcome. The principle that the developmental benefits of early education should be available to all children through a universal and equitable entitlement from an early age should never be compromised.

Early childhood provision is underpinned by the dual policy rationales of: remediating the inequalities children bear from social inequality and assisting school readiness; and economic wellbeing for families with young children through its childcare function. In pursuing this double dividend, the NES should ensure, as proposed in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto, that early education policies do not ration this entitlement on the basis of parental employment status. Such rationing flies in the face of the principle of universal education set out in the charter’s Article 1.

The NES should recognise that the delivery of universal early education (and indeed other forms of education) to children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and children for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) currently meets many barriers (Article 5). These challenges should be addressed and resolved in the interests of social justice and a truly inclusive early education system.

The Charter (point 7) emphasises that the NES “will be structured to encourage and enhance cooperation across boundaries and sectors,” in order to promote educational excellence. To achieve this important aim all types of provider partnerships need to be based on a clear set of principles that go beyond minimum standards. This is to avoid the pitfalls of the current marketised early education system which has been shown to promote inequalities of access, affordability and service quality.

This requires a knowledgeable and well qualified early education leaders and practitioners. The NES should take account of the findings and recommendations of the 2012 Nutbrown Review in respect of developing and supporting a well-qualified and well-remunerated early years workforce who will benefit from continuing professional development opportunities throughout their careers. The Nutbrown Review set out clear pathways towards a highly qualified workforce with graduates in leadership positions. Workforce quality is key to early education service quality and hence to outcomes for children.

Lifelong learning

The core principle on which the National Education System must rest is that of ‘cradle to grave’ lifelong learning. The growing use of robotics and of Artificial Intelligence received recognition. The labour market is undergoing an unprecedented transformation at an accelerating rate, with knock-on effects in every section of society and every area of life. The consequence is an expanding population confronted by a dwindling supply of jobs and a growing ‘GIG’ economy, comprising short-term zero-hour contracts interspersed with unemployment.

The National Education Service must be fit for the 21st, replacing one whose curricula, modes of delivery and governance have not developed much from the 19th century. At a time when the need for lifelong learning has never been more pressing the steady decline in numbers engaged in adult education – including the massive drop in Open University numbers – reflects a policy disaster that has to be reversed.

The golden days of adult education in Britain, when all courses available to adults – including extramural courses in HE – were seen as valuable in their own right and virtually free of charge are now a distant dream. Replacing this ethos is a culture of marketization and austerity-driven cuts extending throughout the system. Yet many countries such as the Nordic five still hold to the principle that education in whatever form it takes should be available to all citizens free as a democratic right. The National Education Service must follow suit.

Such initiatives as learning cities – the hubs in wide ranging networks of local provision as promoted by UNESCO – offer the model for what is needed. And in Britain the idea has particular relevance. The incorporation into nationally directed provision of vocational education, as delivered by the now embattled further education colleges and what were polytechnics leaves a residue of uncertificated adult education with local authorities and the voluntary sector. This cuts across the principle of localism and the matching of need to provision where the local college was at the heart of its community. The NES needs to reverse this. There should be opportunities for educational engagement and progression, vertically and horizontally throughout the country for every citizen delivered locally under the governance of the social partners – local employers, unions and local authority members – not central government.

In such a system the workplace plays a major part as a core source of learning and raising the status of this function, as in France and Germany, should be a top priority for the digital age. Trade unions with learning representatives across the whole country are another source of such educational infrastructure, together with charitable foundations. Prison education, rather than being seen largely as time serving filling gaps in a shattered occupational career, should be a central part of rehabilitation. The local authority or regional counterpart supplies the essential glue for holding the whole system together.

There is a long way to go before Britain achieves the levels of equality of educational opportunities and outcomes, as achieved, for example, in Scandinavian countries, and they themselves are always trying to improve on what has been achieved so far. Nevertheless, the goal is obtainable given the commitment to lifelong and life-wide learning for achieving it. Apart from individual fulfilment, Society will always benefit from the resulting contribution to productivity, enhanced quality of life and social cohesion that learning brings. The National Education Service must be the means of bringing about the cultural shift that is needed.

About the New Visions for Education Group

The New Visions for Education Group is made up of educationalists, practitioners, academics and lifelong commentators whose constitution expresses our principal objective as the promotion of a collaborative, inclusive and equitable public education service that aims to provide a high-quality education for all, ranks practical learning as highly as academic learning, and values the personal development and well-being of the individual as highly as their and society’s economic and occupational needs.

The submission reflects the experience of Group members whose experience and research leads them to believe that healthy prosperous communities are built on equality of access to the best education and upon valuing equally everyone’s skills and talents. Further information can be found on the Group’s website: www.newvisionsforeducation.org.uk.

 

For more information contact:

John Fowler

Hon Secretary, New Visions for Education Group

John.fowler@bcjf.co.uk

 

24 June 2018