Founder of Blue Beyond, Luke Robert Black highlights the importance and success of Tory party policies in improving our education system.
I was discussing education with university friends recently. Many of my friends said that they ‘hated’ Michael Gove – although none of them could really give me a decent reason why – and they blamed free schools, academies and Conservative education policies entirely.
‘The Tories have cut education to the bone!’ they cried, even if education funding is at a record high. ‘I’m worried about standards, to be honest with you,” even if there are 2 million more children in Good or Outstanding schools. ‘The Tories are stopping kids from being creative!’, even though, if this is happening in schools at all, it would be entirely at these schools own discretion thanks for the freedoms they now have. But who cares if there are more six-year olds than can read and write than in 2010?
Never mind that the University of Birmingham, King’s College London and the University of Nottingham have set up their own schools. Never mind that working class parents have much more choice of schools, in ethos, curriculum and behaviour policy than ever before – and none of this costs a penny too. Never mind the fact that, for the first time ever, middle-class parents are desperately trying to get their children into Hackney state schools.
None of this mattered as things were going backwards in their eyes. To them, this was not an impressive sign of progress, but instead a regression.
But ask yourself this: should only rich people get a choice in education? Should we create socio-economic divides in schools, based on richer and poorer neighbourhoods?
If the answer is yes, then you should think about joining the Labour Party – a lot of my university friends have. Yet such is the poor quality of today’s opposition, that they cannot offer a coherent and inspirational policy on education, nor one that would help the poorest and most vulnerable.
Instead, Corbyn would rather rally the base around piling class-based hatred of a few well-known private schools that are politically convenient for him to mention. Stifle and end the competitive innovation that is taking place in the state sector and, most ungraciously of all, deny the freedom of choice in education – that we happily afford the richest in society – from those who probably need it the most.
Labour wants to go back to the days when teaching unions were more important than teaching practices, when Mossbourne Academy, or then known as Hackney Downs, was only churning out young people with one GCSE. They hail the creation of a ‘National Education Service’, bringing all free schools and academies back into government control – comprehensive education 2.0. Deny the less affluent of choice. Deny teachers of running schools themselves. Yes, the very system that created more divide between the rich and poor than ever before.
But it doesn’t matter as, to them, education is an ideological battle. It’s innovation vs. teaching unions. It’s healthy competition vs. awards for all. It’s the individual vs. the state. It’s the rejection of liberty and freedom as a solution to our problems. At the core of Labour’s stance is deep mistrust of individuals and communities to self-organise and deliver for their neighbourhoods.
Under the Conservatives, however, it’s these freedoms that have driven success. Parents who were once unhappy with the lack of school places and choice of schools in their area, now have the power to take the initiative and do something about it. The state sector now offers as much choice as its private counterpart, encouraging even some fee-paying schools such as Liverpool College to come into the public sector. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, schools are now run by those who understand them the most – the teachers themselves.
Yet, Guardian columnists continue to bemoan the calibre of free schools, catastrophising over ‘traditional’ values like the acquisition of knowledge and rigorous behaviour policies. Their hypocrisy is honestly galling, as they scorn reformers like Gove for wanting to give all students the experiences that many of these political commentators enjoyed themselves: from a prefect system to school choirs, or from student councils to debating unions.
Some of it even extends to curriculum content, where individuals such as Toby Young have been vilified for simply wanting to give children – whose parents cannot afford to move to an expensive catchment area – the opportunity study Latin.
Curiously, these are the experiences enjoyed by the children of Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti. But, as Fraser Nelson once noted, there is nothing new in people scoffing at the idea of working-class children from attending good schools that have the same freedoms as the exclusive fee-paying schools that they themselves attended. Freedoms they now wish to end in both the state and the private sector: vowing to ban both free schools and fee-paying schools at the same time.
For Labour, education should not run by teachers. Instead, we should draw a blueprint for every single school in the country and force all those (except the rich, obviously) to send their children to their local school. That will solve all the problems, they argue (if you ignore the waiting lists, the need to live in a leafy catchment area or even the farce of getting a vicar’s recommendation for the most selective of ‘comprehensive’ schools). Yes, ignore all of the things that have shown us time and time again that the government-run comprehensive system does not work for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Ignore the fact that Conservative education policies are delivering in the classroom – and often for the most vulnerable. Ignore the fact that the number of children on Free School Meals attending university went from 16% in 2010 to 20% in 2014, rising again to 25.6% in 2017. Ignore the fact that free schools, academies and innovation in the state sector is driving this upward trajectory.
Ignore the fact that Conservative education secretaries have just wanted to raise standards. Ignore that they want teachers to call the shots on how state schools are run and to be as free from red tape as fee-paying schools. Ignore the fact that they want good state schools to encourage failing neighbouring schools to up their game.
Freedom, liberty and the marketisation of the education system has driven these successes – we cannot let these successes go ignored.