SEA members and supporters came away from the Labour Conference this week in a more optimistic mood than for many years. For one thing, education was a high profile issue. In the ballot for contemporary resolutions, education proved to be a winner. Fringe meetings were packed and there was real passion in many of the contributions.
But more importantly, we saw real movement on policy matched by a demand from the floor of the conference for a more radical approach. Most obviously, there was the dramatic new policy statement on academies and free schools. Crucially, this was not just about stopping further academisation or giving a few powers back to local authorities. The commitment now is that:
- “We will also consult on and establish a new regulatory framework for schools. This would bring schools within the principles of the National Education Service, and ensure that all schools follow the same rules, with schools being regulated by statute, rather than thousands of individual contracts;
- The objectives of this framework will be;
- A standard set of rules and procedures applying to all schools, including pay agreements;
- A standard legal basis for all schools based in statute, not private contract;
Make no mistake – that means the end of the privatisation agenda. Also incorporated in the new policy is removing control over admissions from individual schools and returning place planning and the commissioning of new schools to local authorities.
On top of this, there were major pledges in the early years and committing to free further as well as higher education.
SEA had a good profile at the conference. We held our first fringe meeting for some years with Melissa Benn, Emma Hardy MP and Louise Regan. Despite being in a fairly obscure part of the conference area, it was standing room only – so much so that, as the TES journalist tweeted, the white wine ran out! The contributions from both the speakers and the floor were powerful and made it very clear that change needs to come.
Our contemporary resolution formed a substantial part of the composite that reached the conference floor and was carried overwhelmingly. Our delegate, James Whiting, also moved the reference back of the grammar school section of the Policy Commission report and this too was carried with very little dissent. It was also the case that behind the scenes, SEA had a significant influence on the academies’ policy statement and our contribution has been noticed at the top of the party.
There is more to do. 11+ plus selection is an issue that has not yet been confronted. All the issues around curriculum, testing and inspection also need to be addressed. The policy implications of ending feed needs to be worked through. Nonetheless, this week represented a big step forward for SEA and for education policy in the party.