The SEA delegate to Labour Conference 2016, Sarah Williams, proposed an historic motion earlier today calling for the establishment of comprehensive education throughout the secondary education system and an end to selection and segregation. The motion passed today at conference is as follows:
Conference abhors the Government proposal to encourage the creation of more Grammar Schools in England. Conference believes education is a collective good that benefits, not just individual pupils/students but society as a whole. Conference views the recent proposals set forth by Justine Greening MP for Putney to expand grammar schools and to remove the cap on faith-based admissions as divisive. Conference believes that the best interests of all children, and the country, would be better served by providing adequate resources for all schools to match the highest achieving ones. Conference notes that grammar schools fail the poorest students “less than 3% of their students are eligible for free school meals (FSM), whereas the average proportion in selective areas is 18%” and that grammar schools encourage inequality. Since there is no evidence that grammar schools improve social mobility or educational outcomes conference condemns this proposal as a retrograde step. Conference recognises that the purpose of education should be to provide all children, irrespective of background or specific needs, with the skills, knowledge enthusiasm an understanding necessary to lead a rewarding and fulfilling life. Conference therefore commits the Labour Party to opposing any expansion to selective education and also to the establishment in all areas of a genuinely comprehensive and inclusive secondary education system that provides for all children according to their needs as well as ensuring a greater voice for councillors, parents and professionals.
You can watch Sarah giving her speech here or listen to a recording of it here:
It is not clear to me in what way this Conference decision was “historic”. The education section of the National Policy Forum report to conference in 2014 said
This seems to me to be essentially the same as the policy agreed by Conference this year. In both cases the Labour Shadow Minister (then Tristram Hunt, now Angela Rayner) batted away calls for a commitment to end selection at eleven on the grounds of political expediency. In both cases selection was condemned as harmful (Angela Rayner called it “toxic”) and in both cases this was not enough to commit to ending it. This looks like a traditional Labour fudge to me. I would be pleased if someone could explain to me how this years decision is fundamentally different from that of 2014.
We could just keep our heads down and pretend that the Conference rhetoric is the substance of what was actually agreed but it isn’t and no one seriously following events would be fooled by that.
This was rather a historic missed opportunity. The original SEA motion gave Labour the opportunity to clear commit itself for the first time to ending selection. That didn’t happen. Instead that passage was excised in the compositing.
‘Conference therefore commits the Labour Party to … the establishment in all areas of a genuinely comprehensive and inclusive secondary education system’
The above is in the last sentence of the motion. It is impossible to read that in any other way than the ending of selection in all areas. It is true that this seems to have escaped the media thus far, but it is up to SEA with Reclaiming Education and others to hold the party to the unanimous decision of the sovereign body of the Party, Annual Conference.
Logical deduction is not a strong skill in politics. I agree that it logically follows that selection has to be removed to establish a genuinely comprehensive system. But then one has to ask why an explicit statement of commitment to ending selection was removed in the compositing. Given Labour’s long history of backsliding over comprehensives and selection, along with its habit of facing both ways at once, that seems to me to require an answer. This is all the more the case if it is true, as I have heard, that the removal of the explicit statement was pushed for on the grounds that it might make keeping Tories on board of the anti-grammar expansion campaign more difficult i.e. on grounds of political expediency.
I am all for trying to hold Labour to the anti-selection implications of the resolution but I suggest that celebration needs to be mixed with some questioning about the degree of commitment. A sure sign would be a commitment to ending all academic selection at eleven. When I see that I will believe that the policy is the real deal.
The resolution indicates a will to move in the direction advocated by the SEA and that is something that could not be said for Labour under Miliband. A problem is the lack of detail i.e. the place where the devil resides. I believe that it will only be safe to conclude that the SEA’s point on selection has been accepted when we get that detail. In the meantime caution would seem to me to be wise in assessing where we have got to with Conference.
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