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On Tuesday, May 22nd, The Reclaiming Education coalition, in which CASE plays a leading part, launched their document, An Education Programme for Labour, to a packed Committee Room 9 at the House of Commons.  Several Labour MPs attended, including Emma Hardy, Meg Hillier, Gordon Marsden and Catherine West.  An Education Programme for Labour is a response to Labour’s plan to develop a National Education Service.  It attempts to give practical expression to the principles outlined in Labour’s own discussion document and focuses particularly on what an incoming Labour government might be able to do in the short and medium term and all the MPs present spoke well of it.  

Catherine West welcomed the gathering and was followed by Paul Martin of CASE, who explained how the document came to be written.  Like many of those who spoke, Paul emphasised the need to redefine education as a public good to which all citizens have an entitlement and from which the whole of society benefits.  The concept of a National Education Service was most welcome but we are all waiting to see how Labour will give practical expression to the principles of equality, entitlement, professionalism and accountability.

John Edmonds of the SEA emphasised the need for equality to be at the heart of the system and the importance of repeated and continuing opportunities for those who miss out initially through no fault of their own.   Gordon Marsden reinforced what had already been said and stressed the importance of education to the development of a mature democracy.

Meg Hillier, the highly respected Chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee, gave a detailed account of the many financial abuses within education that her committee has encountered in recent years and the serious problems that have arisen as a result.  She sounded a warning note against the idea that Labour could put everything right at once.  She was followed by a short but passionate speech by Emma Hardy, herself a former teacher, attacking the demoralising effect that current “accountability” systems have upon the morale of both teachers and children.  Half the teaching force would now rather work part-time for less pay in order to reduce exhaustion.

Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, followed with a more detailed account of the parlous state of the teaching profession and the unfitness for the future of the UK’s current approach to education.  According to the OECD, only Ireland and Uruguay place more emphasis on rote learning than does the UK.  Meanwhile Singapore, much quoted by government ministers as having an educational model to which we should aspire, has decided to abandon this model in favour of greater creativity and less obedience.

The final speaker was Alan Tuckett of the University of Wolverhampton who reminded the gathering of the importance of Further and Adult Education, badly neglected by the present government, and of the enormous value of a political commitment to the concept of lifelong learning.

The impassioned contributions from the floor, if sometimes more idealistic than politically aware, nevertheless served as a good indicator of the extent to which the meeting had thoroughly engaged all those who attended.  All in all, this was a very stimulating and valuable occasion.