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What should a National Education Service look like? The Labour Party are consulting now.

In their Manifesto for the 2017 General Election, the Labour Party committed to developing a National Education Service. Now the Labour Party has published a short consultation on the NES, and wants to hear from anyone interested in education (NOT just from party members!)

How is RoS planning to respond?
We are responding in two ways. Firstly, RoS is part of an alliance of education campaign groups known as Reclaiming Education, which has developed a group response which you can see here Secondly, we are also submitting our own response.

RoS’ Response
Last year, we at RoS published our own Manifesto – our priorities for the changes needed on a range of issues if our education system is to be fit for purpose in the 21st Century (that means meeting our children’s needs and the requirements of employers and society). We will be submitting our Manifesto in response to the Labour Party consultation, and explaining how the Labour Party proposals so far address – or not – our concerns. Our initial thoughts on this are set out below, but we would like to include more comments, views and examples from you, our supporters.

The consultation sets out ten principles and some specific questions. Here they are, together with our initial thoughts. Do you agree? Please let us know what you think.

The 10 Principles set out in the Labour Party Consultation
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.

Yes, education has intrinsic value. But it’s vital that education covers not just knowledge but also the skills and cultural capital to use it effectively. We now live in an era where much knowledge is easily and instantly obtainable – but developing the ability to analyse, interpret and refine that knowledge, and acquiring creative and interpersonal skills, is what will make a difference to our work and home lives.

2. The National Education Service shall provide education that is free at the point of use, available universally and throughout life.

Education is a right, it should be available universally. We agree with the intention to increase access to childcare provision and the plans to change the funding model (current policy is penalising providers, misleading parents and making it hard for some to access childcare). As part of the Fair Funding for All Schools campaign we have always been clear that schools are struggling in the face of increased costs and reduced budgets. Further Education has seen its funding cut even further – yet is now supposed to be delivering more than ever. It is absolutely imperative that Labour commits to increasing funding for schools and colleges.

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.

We agree. RoS was founded in direct response to the 2016 proposals on forced academisation of all schools. Even though the headlines of that policy have softened, schools across the country have been forced into Multi Academy Chains with no clear accountability to parents or local authorities. In many cases these MATs have proved unable to meet the challenges facing local schools, but left parents (and councils) with no means of redress. Schools need to be rooted in communities, not hidden behind corporate branding.

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.

Yes. Silo working in government departments risks losing people between the cracks, duplicates effort and wastes resource. But it’s easy to talk up joined-up working – actually doing it in practice means agreeing on the principles and compromising on control of the detail. We look forward to seeing what this means in practice – Young people’s mental health would be a great place to start.

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.

Yes every child does matter. But at the moment, children with SEN are being left behind, and more children face exclusion. And schools are expected to pick up the pieces for failures in social policy (by providing breakfast for children whose parents cannot afford it, for instance).
Current and previous governments (including Labour) have been caught up in the mantra of ‘parent choice’. In our experience, what parents want is a good local school for their children. Adding choice just for the sake of it creates a distraction and diverts resources, without benefitting all children overall.

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.

This principle should explicitly include creative, personal and cultural learning. It should also include a commitment to independent expert review of the need for qualifications at 16 as well as 18 – and to implementing the results of that review.

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.

We agree. Collaboration achieves so much more than competition. London Challenge proved this some years ago.

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.

Yes. We need a return to local accountability for all schools. Local authorities need to be able to plan effectively for school places and to be held accountable for supporting schools and promoting collaboration.
To use limited resources effectively, Labour will need to commit to making decisions which may be unpopular with some – but will ultimately benefit all. Grammar schools have remained in place for political reasons, not educational ones. It is time to end selection. Labour must also review the need for additional schools which are surplus to requirements and only provided to increase parental choice (such as free schools in rural areas), and enable Local Authorities to take action when required.

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.

We agree.

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.

We agree, but these are easy words to say – the policy detail is what will ultimately make a difference. Those policies must include 1) reducing political interference in matters that should be left to experts (such as appropriate assessment and curriculum detail), 2) including emotional, social and physical wellbeing of students and staff in the school inspection framework, and 3) breaking the link between assessment and school accountability. There are other ways of measuring teacher and school performance that do not result in teaching to the test and reducing access to cultural, creative and technical education.

The 10 Questions in the Labour Party Consultation
1. What should a National Education Service be for and what values should it and the draft charter embody?

The purpose of the National Education Service should be to enable all children, young people and adults to develop the abilities, knowledge and skills needed to become engaged, confident and healthy citizens, able to contribute creatively and purposefully in and outside work to the goal of a more cohesive society. In order to achieve this, it must ensure access to life-long learning for all, in order that people can thrive in an increasingly automated world.

2. What amendments, if any, should be made to the principles outlined in the draft charter for the National Education Service? 

Please see our responses to the individual principles.

3. What additional principles should be considered for the charter of the NES?
The following need to be added to the principles of the NES:
• The purpose of the NES
• Commitment to reducing micro-management by politicians in education matters (what happens in the classroom is for experts, not politicians).
• Comprehensive education for all – an end to selection at age 11.

4. What barriers currently exist to cooperation between education institutions, and what steps can be taken to remove them and ensure that cooperation is a central principle of our education system?

This is a complex question that needs more comprehensive consultation given the current state of the schools system, with MATs vying for business in some places and actively trying to discharge responsibility for schools in difficult situations. Fundamentally, the Labour Party needs to commit to ending the market in schools.

5. Through which channels and mechanisms should the public be able to hold educational institutions to account, and how should this vary across different educational bodies?

We want to see a return to local accountability, with a clear role for local authorities and elected councilors, and with parents and communities empowered to influence change when it is needed. Current arrangements – including RSCs, DfE, local authorities and Ofsted, are multi-layered and confusing, and yet there is no effective oversight of MATs. Labour should consult widely before setting out new policy on this area in order to ensure that the new system is fit for purpose.

6. What can we do to reduce the fragmentation of the education system, and to move towards an approach that is integrated and promotes lifelong learning?

This is another complex question that will require more careful consideration and options appraisal, given the current state of the schools system. Withdraw the market in schools so that neighbouring schools are not actively competing for pupils, and can instead concentrate on collaboration. Link establishments more clearly at local level, alongside implementing the changes needed to local accountability. Remove charitable status from private schools.

7. How do we improve the quality of early years education, in particular with relation to qualifications and staffing levels? 

Labour should look to the evidence from Germany and other European countries on early years and raising the age of school entry. Early years education does not have to take place in schools in order to be effective.

8. How do we achieve genuine parity of esteem between academic and vocational/technical education? How do we improve outcomes for those young people who do not choose to follow what is seen as the traditional academic route?

Government at all levels needs to be seen to be valuing vocational and technical education as highly as academic education, rather than always focusing on university entrance. This is a debate about the kind of society we want to live in, rather than simply a matter of talking about specific kinds of education.

9. What can be done to ensure that the NES has the staff it needs, in particular with reference to the ongoing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention?

Ask the teaching unions, the teachers, the education colleges, and put their recommendations into action! More broadly, remove the link between assessment and school accountability, which is distorting the curriculum, creating unnecessary work for teachers and school leaders and affecting morale. Increase funding so that childcare providers, schools and colleges have the resources they require rather than being expected to struggle on without the support staff, planning time and materials needed.

10. What steps can be taken, at both the training stage and during continuing professional development (CPD), to ensure that teachers and support staff have the knowledge and resources they need to teach the whole curriculum? For instance, with reference to mandatory, age-appropriate relationships and sex education (RSE) and personal, social and health education (PSHE).

Effective, evidence-based delivery of mandatory RSE /PSHE across the primary and secondary curriculum should be included in the school inspection framework. At local level, the new accountability framework for schools should facilitate links with public health and mental health (both providers and commissioners). More broadly, the NES needs to champion the intrinsic value of RSE/PSHE rather than treating both as an add-on. Similarly, the NES should clearly articulate and promote CPD as the means by which teaching staff can both access and contribute to the evidence base, and increase access to options such as sabbaticals.

What do you think?

Do you agree with our responses to the Labour Party NES principles and questions? If so, is there anything you would like to add? If no, can you tell us why not? Please let us know as soon as possible. Deadline is this Sunday.

You may prefer to submit comments and questions directly. If so, go to to view the comments and discussions so far, and to find out how to submit comments and feedback. The deadline is Sunday 24th June.

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