The stated aim of the education white paper is to break the link between poverty and underachievement at school. The good news is that the Parliamentary Labour Party unanimously supports this aim. The bad news is that key structural reforms in the white paper threaten to achieve the opposite. Labour has invested massively and made big strides in improving educational opportunities for all, so there is some consternation that we find ourselves in a battle to make certain we don’t return to the inequalities and elitism of the post-war system.
The white paper’s untested assumption is that the creation of a body of selfregulating ‘ independent’ schools will raise standards and spread opportunity. Without an effective system of accountability or an overarching duty protecting the interests of all pupils in the locality, I doubt it. The dynamics of such a system may result in enhanced choice for some but it will come at the expense of the rest.
The inexplicable ban on the creation of new community schools, regardless of the wishes of parents, appears to be nothing but ideological dogma and a slap in the face to local authorities. The ending of local democratic accountability over the provision of education services in favour of corporate or charitable involvement is dubious and further erodes the legitimacy of our democratic institutions at a time when they need strengthening.
Not surprisingly, the proposals have received little support in the Labour Party or the education world. Indeed, education secretary Ruth Kelly’s statement in parliament was received rapturously by the Tories and in almost total silence on the Labour benches. Marketisation approaches to public sector reform do not fit comfortably with Labour philosophy and they look increasingly anachronistic in an era when even the Tories are keen to distance themselves from Thatcherism.
The stakes could hardly be higher. With the new Tory leader offering a siren call of ‘support’, and a substantial proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party in revolt, the only way through is to forge a consensus for education reform that commands overwhelming support in the Labour Party.
This is what we need:
First, strict enforcement of an egalitarian admissions policy. While ministerial assurances that there will be no return to selection are welcome, the dynamics of the reform proposals increase both the incentives to select on academic ability and the potential rewards for doing so. Current safeguards are far too weak. They must be unequivocal, tough and legally enforceable. In an environment where ‘independent’ schools may be tempted to compete,there should be a duty on schools to cooperate.
Second, the ban on the creation of new community schools flies in the face of all the rhetoric about parental choice. It should be abandoned.
Third, we need to preserve a meaningful strategic role for local authorities. The white paper proposes only that they should be ‘champions’ of parental choice and ‘purchasers’, not ‘providers’, of education services. This is confusing sub-Thatcherite market sloganeering, which has generated more heat than light. A Labour Party renewing itself in office should not default to tired and politically alien market solutions in reforming education (or indeed health services), nor should it tolerate failure. The real way forward is to create a deeper democratic involvement in schools and strengthen, not weaken, local accountability.
There is a model that has just recently come out of Ruth Kelly’s own department that could offer a way forward. Clause One of the childcare bill imposes an ‘outcome duty’on all English local authorities. They must increase the well being of all young children in their areas and narrow the gap between them in ‘outcomes’. These outcomes include the child’s economic well being. The Tories voted against ‘narrowing the gap’ between children at committee stage in parliament. Extending this duty from those aged up to five – perhaps all the way to 18 – could create a strategic framework that safeguards the interests of the many, not just the few. It would introduce a radical local authority remit to facilitate more economic equality.
Finally, the trust school proposals have created understandable worries about accountability. Any new model for school organisation needs to be subject to local democratic decision-making. Meaningful local authority and parental involvement needs to be maintained in the governance of all schools,whatever the management arrangements may be. I am sceptical that injecting either a charitable or corporate ethos into school provision is desirable in itself, and even more so that it will automatically raise standards.
Successful Labour public sector reform should trust the people,not the market. The mainstream members of the Labour party would support these safeguards, but they won’t support a return to elitism that leaves the disadvantaged behind.Angela Eagle is the MP for Wallasey, a member of Labour’s national executive committee and one of the authors of the Alternative White Paper.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry